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N.C. school boards lining up against virtual charter school

Thirty-five school boards across the state have passed resolutions opposing a virtual charter school’s scheduled opening this fall.

Prompted by the N.C. School Boards Association, the resolutions pave the way for the schools boards to join litigation seeking to stop the North Carolina Virtual Academy from opening this fall.

“We’ve got all the way from Washington to Cherokee,” said Leanne Winner of the school board association. (Scroll to the bottom of the post to see a list of school boards).

Winner expects more of the state’s 115 school boards, all of which are members of the association, to pass resolutions as the boards meet.

A hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday in front of a Wake Superior Court judge to see if the school boards can join the N.C. State Board of Education in appealing an administrative judge’s decision to allow the virtual charter school to open this fall.

(The state already funds the separate North Carolina Virtual Public School, which offers online classes to students statewide to recover credits or take advanced classes, but isn’t a full-time school like the charter school.)

The proposed charter school would be overseen by a newly-formed non-profit N.C. Learns but its day-to-day management is handled by a for-profit education company,  K12, Inc., which was trading on Wall Street at $20.63 a share mid-day. The company gets most (more than 80 percent) of its revenue from running public virtual schools that have children take programmed classes from their home computers from the oversight of their parents.

The company was profiled in a New York Times investigation last December that questioned whether the company, which gets more than 80 percent of its profit from taxpayers, puts profits above quality. Audits in other states have found the company overcharged states, and many of the virtual schools have seen students test below what their peers at traditional schools.

A Stanford University study of Pennsylvania charter schools found that 100 percent of students at virtual charter schools in the state performed significantly worse than their peers.

In North Carolina, the company wants to have 2,750 students statewide in its first year, and as much as $18 million in public education funding sent diverted from the state’s 115 school districts.

An administrate law judge ruled on May 8 that the virtual charter school could open after the N.C. State Board of Education failed to act on a request for final approval the virtual school sent to the state board in February.

The statewide virtual school took an unusual strategy to get approval by being the first charter school in more than 12 years to seek approval at the local level before getting final authorization from the  N.C. State Board of Education,

The Cabarrus County School Board agreed to sponsor the charter school in exchange for four percent of the proposed charter school’s public funding (more than an estimated $700,000 in the first year). The application was then forwarded on to the state board, which had already reviewed a batch of charter school applications for the year and didn’t act on the N.C. Learns/K12, Inc. application. The state board wanted to develop a policy, and a funding formula, for virtual charter schools before approving any.

N.C. Administrative Law Judge Beecher Gray felt that the state board should have considered the application, and granted the charter school final approval as a result of the state board’s inaction.

Now, the state is appealing Gray’s ruling to a Wake Superior Court judge while the N.C. School Board Association, and the 35 individual school boards, hope to intervene in the case. The N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a project under, has filed an amicus brief in the case as well.

The following school boards have passed resolutions opposing the virtual charter school:

    1. Alamance
    2. Alleghany
    3. Anson
    4. Asheville City
    5. Brunswick
    6. Bertie
    7. Chapel Hill-Carrboro
    8. Chatham
    9. Cherokee
    10. Durham
    11. Elizabeth City-Pasquotank
    12. Franklin
    13. Gaston
    14. Granville
    15. Halifax
    16. Hertford
    17. Hickory
    18. Hoke
    19. Jackson
    20. Kannapolis City
    21. Macon
    22. Madison
    23. McDowell
    24. Montgomery
    25. Moore
    26. Mooresville
    27. Nash-Rocky Mount
    28. Perquimans
    29. Person
    30. Polk
    31. Rockingham
    32. Vance
    33. Warren
    34. Washington
    35. Wilson

3 Comments

  1. Rob Sutter

    May 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    I cannot thank the NC School Board Association enough for their dedication to the students of the state. The fact that K12 bought their way in by hiring high profile lobbyists, making political donations and then filing suit to get the school approved is reprehensible. Our children deserve better than a CEO who is misleading as the NYTimes article states, has been asked to step down by the k12 board of directors and a group of money hungry vicious people who are making millions on the backs of taxpayers but more importantly on the backs of OUR children, OUR future.

    This is no big surprise that these for-profit companies are “raping” public education and the legislators they “paid off” are allowing them to do it for campaign contributions. They “falsify” their results and win on wall street but the children are the ones who lose out. Around the country especially in In Iowa, LRN made an aggressive push to enter into the Iowa school systems. It has already contracted with a school district and begun signing up students. Unfortunately it came to light that the service that K12 offers (virtual online education at home) is prohibited under Iowa state law, which states that “telecommunications shall not be used by school districts as the exclusive means to provide any course which is required by the minimum educations standards for accreditation.” In short, LRN contracted with the school districts but the school districts do not have the authority to sign such a contract. K12 had expected as many as 300 students to sign up by March 1, but reportedly has “fewer than 50 so far. In Mississippi (another big push state for LRN), the state’s recent education bill expressly prohibited online education. Sen. David Blount gave the amendment to pull the provision out, saying Mississippi does not need to experiment. “There’s just not the evidence there that virtual charter schools have been successful,” said the Democratic senator in the state senate.

    In Arizona, writer David Safier updated his 2008 findings about LRN outsourcing student papers to India for grading. After the practice was uncovered in 2008, K12 quickly discontinued the practice and noted that it was limited to the Arizona schools only.

    Safier recently presented his findings that the practice of outsourcing papers to India extended to 10 of LRN’s schools, which incidentally are the largest of the company’s schools and account for a majority of the students. The outsourcing practice extended beyond Arizona to Colorado, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Minnesota and Washington. In other words, Safier makes the case that outsourcing student papers to India was not an isolated oversight, but was an institutional decision.

    In Texas, The Texas Observer recently described in detail how one K12 school was effectively shut down due to underperformance only to reopen after partnering with a new school district. The net effect was that the previous school (and its poor track record) was eliminated, and a new school (with a new identification number and no track record) was created. The new school would employ the same teachers and enroll the same students. It is certainly a very novel and creative solution to the problem of having one of its school close, but it seems to indicate that K12 is more concerned about maintaining enrollment than it is in fixing the problem of chronic underperformance.

    The list of scornful local press coverage goes on much longer. But the recent article from TheFinancialInvestigator.com deserves some attention of its own. The main focus of the article is “churn.” Although K12 has been increasing its enrollment numbers at a notable clip, the dropout rate is downright alarming at 25% to 50% per year. This compares to a typical dropout rate of around 5% per year for brick and mortar schools (i.e. an 80% graduation rate over four years). This raises two very troubling prospects. First, until such time as they are coded “withdrawn” these students continue to generate revenue for K12 from state tax dollars. Second, it creates a massive incentive (a necessity in fact) for K12 to aggressively court new students to replace the dropouts. This has given rise to a host of critics who assert that K12 is a fantastic marketer but, as described in the New York Times, a dismal educator.

    You need to look at HOW we educate our children and don’t sell their futures to Wall Street or a slick talking, suit wearing person like Ron Packard who never had a child in PUBLIC SCHOOL but pays his children’s tuition on the backs of our children.

  2. Lisa Wilbourne

    May 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Pitt County’s Board of Education will be voting on a resolution against the virtual charter school on Monday evening.

  3. [...] N.C. School Board Association and at least 35 of its member school boards also are objecting to the virtual school opening, and want to intervene in the [...]