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State school board asks Wake judge to block for-profit virtual school

The N.C. Board of Education wants a Wake Superior Court Judge to block a Wall Street-run virtual charter school from opening in the state.

In an appeal filed Wednesday, state officials are arguing that an administrative law judge erred in a May 8 ruling permitting the virtual charter school to open its portals this fall.

A hearing on a temporary motion to stay the  school’s will be held at 10 a.m. on June 4th, in the Wake County Courthouse.

[1]The North Carolina Virtual Academy, which will be run by the Wall Street’s K12, Inc. [2], would exist solely online. It wants to recruit students from across the state to attend the publicly-funded cyber school run by a for-profit company under N.C. Learns, a non-profit organization set up to house the virtual school.  The virtual school permits students to take classes from their home computers, and will loan computers to low-income children that enroll with the school.

In its initial application, the school leaders said they hoped to have 1,750 students and $18 million in education funding  in its first year. The charter school, instead of going straight to the state for permission to open, got preliminary approval in January from the Cabarrus County Board of Education, utilizing an avenue to go to a local school board for charter school approval in the state that hadn’t been used in more than a decade. The company also hired Jeff Barnhart, a former state representative from Cabarrus County, to lobby the school board in its favor, and state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Cabarrus County was brought on as a lawyer to represent for the non-profit board of the school.

The state board didn’t act on final approval application submitted to them in February, citing previous statements by State Board Chairman William Harrison that the state was holding off from approving any virtual charter schools until doing more research on the quality and controversy surrounding the schools. The state also doesn’t have a separate funding mechanism set up for cyber charters, meaning the virtual school would receive the same $7,000 to $10,000 per-pupil as a brick-and-mortar charter school.

N.C. Learns, the non-profit that applied to the state on behalf of K12, Inc., filed a grievance against the state board, and were awarded a final approval of its charter school application by the administrative law judge.

In other states, K12, Inc. (NYSE: LRN [3]), which gets more than 80 percent of its revenue from virtual public schools, has faced criticism for its quality of education. An audit in Colorado found that the company overcharged the state $800,000 for students who never attended, while a Stanford University [4] study of Pennsylvania virtual charter schools found a 100 percent of students in the virtual schools performed significantly worse in both math and reading than their traditional school peers. The company has also been named in a class-action investor lawsuit accusing its CEO Ron Packard, who received $5 million in pay and stock compensation last year, and other leaders of overstating the company’s potential and quality of its education delivery system.

Supporters of the company’s brand of virtual education say it educates children at a lower cost than traditional public schools and also allows families flexibility to monitor their children’s progress directly.

Separately, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction sent a letter to Cabarrus County school officials advising the school system that it would be responsible for making sure the virtual school met all the parameters required by law to run a public school. DPI’s Office of Charter Schools serves that role for the 100 exisiting charter schools in the state.

Click here [5] and here [6] to read past articles about K12, Inc.’s push in North Carolina.