One of the state’s two virtual charter schools can increase its enrollment by 20 percent next school year, but the other cannot.
In a “special meeting” Friday, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved NC Virtual Academy’s (NCVA) request to increase enrollment up to 20 percent for the 2019-20 school year.
It did not approve the request by N.C. Cyber Academy (NCCA) — formerly N.C. Connections Academy — citing a major transition the school will undergo as it begins to operate without its Education Management Organization (EMO).
NCCA parted ways with its EMO, Pearson OBL, in a nasty disagreement over Pearson’s management style.
The SBE’s votes followed the recommendations of the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB), which recommended approval of NCVA’s request but not NCCA’s.
“I would like it stated in the minutes that once this school has its first year under its belt without its operator that they send another request to us at the appropriate time,” said SBE member Amy White, who chairs the board’s Education, Innovation and Charter Schools Committee.
The board was unanimous in its decision to not allow NCCA to increase its enrollment. It narrowly approved NCVA’s request on a 4-3 vote. Several voting members did not call into the meeting, which was held via conference call.
SBE member Alan Duncan signaled before the vote that he would not support approval of NCVA’s request because it has not performed well.
“I’d hope they’d focus on getting to a place first of meeting expectation with the students they have without the added burden of having to take on a number of additional students while still having that burden before them,” Duncan said.
Legislation authorizing the two schools allowed each to enroll a maximum of 1,500 students the first year of operation. It allowed them to increase enrollment by 20 percent each year up to a maximum of 2,592 students in the fourth year of the pilot program.
The SBE is allowed to waive this maximum student enrollment threshold beginning in the fourth year if it deems that doing so is best for students in the state.
Lawmakers and the SBE have faced criticism for continuing to support the schools despite their poor performance records.
Both schools have earned state performance grades of “D” each year of operation beginning in 2015. And neither school has met student academic growth goals during that span. Both are on the state’s list of continually low-performing schools.
Still, state lawmakers approved legislation last year to allow the schools to continue operating through the 2022-23 school year.
NCVA, one of the state’s two virtual charter schools, enrolled 2,425 students this past school year.
NCCA enrolled 2,512 students last school year. As of June 6, nearly 2,200 students have enrolled for the 2019-20 school year. It has a waiting list of 398 students.
Public school advocates and many K-12 academic researchers have been openly critical of the virtual charter model. They point to dismal academic results and soaring dropout rates in states across the country.
A 2015 Stanford University study, for example, reported serious deficiencies in student performance nationwide in such programs.
But supporters say virtual schools serve an important student population and vow test scores will improve.
“When they get to five [years] and above … schools that have been around a little longer, their data is much stronger,” Dave Machado told board members earlier this month. “They understand what they’re doing. They do a better job at it. They make any adjustments they need to make.”