An administrative law judge will hear this afternoon from a proposed virtual charter school run by Wall Street investors that hopes to open its virtual doors to North Carolina students this fall.
N.C. Learns, a non-profit group set up to house a virtual charter school run by the online education giant K12, Inc.,  (NYSE: LRN ), filed a grievance in March against the State Board of Education, arguing that it should be allowed to open this fall despite missing other deadlines because the company had gotten the blessing of an individual school district. (Click here  to read our previous story about the legal suit.)
Update, 3:30 p.m.: N.C. Administrative Law Judge Beecher Gray ruled that the state board should have reviewed the school’s application, and the judge gave the school approval. Unless the state appeals or gets a stay, the virtual school can open this fall, according to Gray’s ruling from the bench. A final written order will be issued in coming days.
The school, which would contract fully with K12, sent its application endorsed by the Cabarrus County school board to the state board in February – other charter schools hoping to be approved as part of the “fast-track” approval process had sent their applications into the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in November.
The state board approved nine new charters schools as part of the fast-track process in March, the first group to gain approval since the state legislature lifted the 100-school cap on charter schools last year (Charter schools are public schools funded with public education dollars that operate outside of traditional school districts by non-profits.) The state is now in the process of sifting through 60-plus more schools that have applied to open for the 2013-14 school year (notably, K12 did not submit an application in that bunch either.)
K12, who had hired a former state representative for the area to lobby on their behalf, had persuaded the Cabarrus County school board to back its application in January, but hopes to serve students statewide.
The company, in its applications to both the state board and Cabarrus school officials, wants to enroll as many as 1,750 students in its first year, to the tune of $18 million in public school funding.
Arguing on behalf of the non-profit at today’s hearing will be state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a prominent Republican lawmaker from Cabarrus County, that the non-profit retained as its legal counsel. It’s not entirely clear who is paying for Hartsell. The non-profit indicated in documents filed with the state board that it had no cash on hand but a draft copy of a contract with K12 said the company would cover all start-up costs associated with opening the virtual charter school.
The state education board is asking the judge dismiss Hartsell’s claims, and has argued that the school didn’t follow the proper procedures in its applications, and that the state is developing a way of evaluating virtual education applicants because of concerns about quality.
Reporter Sarah Ovaska will be going to the hearing, and you can follow updates from her via Twitter at @SarahOvaska .