A state advisory committee wants to see more information on the virtual charter school industry before the state starts funding any of the online schools.
The N.C. E-Learning Commission , which acts in an advisory role to both N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue and the N.C. State Board of Education, met Thursday morning and passed a recommendation that the state board take a closer look at virtual education before approving any cyber schools.
The committee’s recommendation for a detailed cost analysis, curriculum review and accountability assessment of virtual education programs is expected to be in front of the N.C. State Board of Education by June.
“As we go forward with virtual schools, with charters, I think it’s very important that we do it right,” said Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the committee chair (and one of several Democratic candidates for governor).
Funding will be a major issue — nothing now prevents a virtual school from getting the same amount of funding as a brick-and-mortar charter school.
The commission also recommended that the state education board create a committee that looks just at K12 virtual education in order to evaluate and monitor any online companies
The only objection at Thursday’s meeting for calling for a freeze on approving any virtual charter schools came from state Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican.
Hise said at the meeting he was worried that charter schools were being singled out and any virtual charter schools applicants would be unfairly delayed by the state board.
“We’re taking a shot at the virtual applicants out there,” Hise said.
Though the Virginia-based K12, Inc . wasn’t mentioned by name at Thursday’s E-Learning Commission meeting, it was clear that the for-profit company was on committee member’s minds.
The Wall Street company recently partnered with the Cabarrus County School district to apply to the state board for a statewide virtual charter school, which would draw students from all over the state. (Click here  to read a past N.C. Policy Watch article about the virtual school partnership)
The company, the largest virtual school provider in the country, has come under scrutiny for its performance in other states.
A December New York Times story  detailed how the state of Colorado find it paid $800,000 for students not eligible to attend the K12-run virtual school, and how students fell far below state averages at a virtual school run by K12 in Virginia.
Since the article came out, a group of investors have filed a class-action lawsuit  against the company, saying that CEO Ronald Packard and other company leaders misled investors with false information.
K12 has called the Times story unfair and one-sided (Click here  to read the K12 response to the Times article.)
In North Carolina, the company is making a strong push to open up, now that the 100-school cap on charter schools has been lifted in the state. It expects to attract several thousand students from across the state.
It’s hired lobbyists from the one of the state’s top lobbying firms, including Jeff Barnhart, the former GOP state representative for Cabarrus County, and Franklin Freeman , one of former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley’s top aides, according to statements made by Barnhart and lobbying records at the N.C. Secretary of State.
State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican, was hired as an attorney and spoke at a Cabarrus school board meeting in favor of for “N.C. Learns,” a non-profit organization that will serve as shell for K12 if the virtual charter school is given approval to open.
North Carolina law requires that non-profits run charter schools, and in this case, the N.C. Learns board indicated it would hire K12 as a sole provider of its virtual education program.
Cabarrus schools, in exchange, would get 4 percent of the public funding that the charter schools would get, according to Lynn Shue, the Cabarrus school board chairman.
The school board felt that they had no choice but to approve the K12, Inc. application, and expect any final decision to be made by the N.C. State Board of Education, said Lynn Shue, the school board chair.
“Not only North Carolina. but the country in general is going forward with this type of technology,” Shue said. “I don’t believe there’s anything that’s going to stop it.”