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Virtual charter schools expected to get approval from NC this week

The State Board of Education will be making its final decision about whether to give a green light to two online-based charter schools that hope to open their (virtual) doors this fall.

It seems all but certain the state board will approve the schools, where students from kindergarten through high school work from home computers while being supervised by a “learning coach,” which usually is a parent. The schools are seeking to each serve up to 1,500 students statewide in the first year, which would send millions in state, local and federal education dollars to the schools.

K12 logoRepublican-led legislature slipped a provision into last summer’s budget bill mandating the creation of a four-year pilot program for two of the online-based charter schools.

Several public education groups, including the N.C. Association of Educators and N.C. School Boards Association, have expressed concerns about the schools, saying the charter schools will divert scarce public education dollars to hand off to for-profit companies while delivering a subpar education to students.

Proponents have said that North Carolina, which offers no full-time virtual education, needs to offer the public education choice for children that don’t do well in traditional schools, because of health issues, full extracurricular or athletic schedules, bullying or in need of remedial help or advanced learning.

Both of the publicly-traded companies behind the two schools now applying to open, K12, Inc. and Connections Academy (which is owned by education giant Pearson), has had teams of lobbyists at the N.C. General Assembly paid to push their cause.

The State Board of Education is slated to discuss the schools at 10:45 a.m. today, and vote on it tomorrow. You can listen to today’s discussion through an audio stream here.

The State Board is moving to putting in some safeguards, including requiring the companies behind the schools to pay for a suitable “learning coach” if a parent is unavailable or not performing his or her duties, and pay for computers or Internet access for low-income families.

Other states have experienced problems or expressed concerns about the for-profit vendors that have managed the schools, with low graduation rates (one Colorado school run by K12, Inc. had a graduation rate as low as 10 percent in 2010). A 2012 report from the National Education Policy Center (which has been critical of the charter schools) found that students who attended virtual schools performed worse academically then their peers in other public schools.

Much of the criticism has been lobbed at K12, Inc., and the company has said that its online curriculum is successful to students and families that are well-suited to the unique form of education, and that test scores tend to be low because the schools in other states attract low-performing students.

You can read some of our past coverage about the virtual schools here and here, and check back as we cover the state board’s decision.

N.C. Policy Watch reporters Lindsay Wagner and Sarah Ovaska will also be tweeting from the meeting, and you can follow their live updates at @LindsayWagnerNC and @SarahOvaska.

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