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A Wake Superior Court judge will announce his decision Friday on whether a virtual charter school should open this fall, after the N.C. Board of Education neglected to take up its application.

The State Board of Education is asking Judge Abe Jones to set aside an administrative judge’s order and give the state board a second chance decide if the virtual charter school should be approved to open up in North Carolina. (The state education board didn’t act on the virtual charters application earlier this spring, saying they had already announced they weren’t going to take up online-only charter schools this year).

N.C. Learns, the non-profit set up to house the K12, Inc.-run school, wants the administrative law judge’s order to hold, so that they can open up this fall and begin recruiting students.  The company expects to find 2,750 students statewide in its first year, meaning more than $18 million of public education funding would be diverted from the already-tight budgets of public schools around the state.

The virtual charter school would be run by K12, Inc., a for-profit online education company that runs similar online-only school in 29 other states. Students at virtual schools take their classes online from their home computers, paid for by taxpayers.

There have been a lot of questions about the quality of K12 schools, with states like Ohio reporting four-year graduation rates as low as 30 percent, and down to 12.2 percent for black students.

North Carolina’s cohort graduation rate is 77.9 percent overall, and 71.5 percent for black students and 68.8 for Latinos.

In this case, The North Carolina Virtual Academy would be run by K12, and be open to students statewide. The school would get the same per-pupil amount as other charter schools get (ranges from $7,000 to $10,000, depending on where the student lives and if they are special needs), despite not having to shoulder the cost of having a physical school and paying for the building costs, and all that goes along with that.

This is just a quick update, and you can read more here about the hearing in today’s News & Observer, as well as this story from WRAL.

Check back with N.C. Policy Watch later on, where we’ll have more detailed account about yesterday’s hearing as well as Judge Abe Jones’ decision Friday.

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The Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Academy won’t be ready to open this fall, and hopes to defer its opening to the 2013-14 school year.

(This is an update to a May 21st post that the school was debating not opening  — it’s now definite that it won’t.).

The proposed school, which will be run by for-profit charter operator National Heritage Academies, encountered some issue finding property in the Chapel Hill area for the school, said Joe DeBenetteo, a Michigan-based spokesman for the charter school company.

The school notified the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recently about its decision not to open, and has applied for chance to open the following year.

The Lee school had been one of the nine charter schools approved as part of a “fast-track” process the N.C. State Board of Education adopted after the N.C. General Assembly did away with a 100-schoool cap on charter schools in the state.

In its application to the state, the Lee school said it wanted to target the achievement gap for minority students in the Chapel Hill school district, but drew opposition from Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district leaders, as well as local chapters of the NAACP.

 

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A for-profit company’s bid to corner a share of N.C.’s public education market turned into reality earlier this month when an administrative law ruled the school could open.

In a May 8 ruling from the bench, Judge Beecher Gray, of the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, ruled in favor of N.C. Learns, a non-profit set up house the cyber school run and marketed by K12, Inc. and gave the school a go-ahead to open.

Late last week, Gray released his written order (click here to read it) :

Respondent [N.C. State Board of Education]’s failure to act or grant final approval to Petitioner [N.C. Learns/K12]’s Request for final approval of its application by the date required by statute (March 15, 2012) was made as a result of using an improper procedure or no procedure; was affected by errors of law or rule; and was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.

It’ll be the first virtual charter school in the state, and unless the state appeals, the school run by a Wall Street company will open up this fall. As many as 1,750 students in its first year, or $18 million in state education funding, could end up in the school’s coffers.

The company has been under fire in other states, where critics claim it puts profits over education. In New Jersey this week, a lawmaker introduced a bill that would temporarily halt any more cyber schools from opening.

In North Carolina, the for-profit-run school took a little-known about route to seek approval for a statewide charter school, and convinced the Cabarrus County school board to back their proposal.

(Helping was K12, Inc.’s hiring of a former Cabarrus County lawmaker to lobby the school board, and a current state Senator hired on to be the lawyer for N.C. Learns, the non-profit set up to get the charter from the state for the school). The company also said it would send four percent of the public education dollars back to Cabarrus County schools in exchange for backing the proposal.

Final approval for the charter school was supposed to be in the hands of the N.C. State Board of Education, but the state board ignored the application and let a March 15 deadline outlined in state statutes go by without any action.

The N.C. State Board of Education has 30 days to appeal Gray’s order to Superior courts in either Wake or Cabarrus counties.

 

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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.