K12, Inc. faces Florida investigation

A for-profit virtual school company fighting to open a public school in North Carolina isaccused of violating state law in Florida by having teachers falsify attendance records.

K12, Inc., a Virginia-based company that runs online-based public schools in 29 states, is under investigation by the Florida education department after several K12 teachers refused to sign class rosters with students the teachers had never taught.

From the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, which reported on the Florida investigation Tuesday:

The Florida Department of Education has launched an investigation of K12, the nation’s largest online educator, over allegations the company uses uncertified teachers and has asked employees to help cover up the practice.

In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students. She only recognized seven names on that list.

“I cannot sign off on students who are not my actual students,” K12 teacher Amy Capelle wrote to her supervisor. “It is not ethical to submit records to the district that are inaccurate.” Read more

Judge’s decision on K12, Inc. virtual charter school coming Friday

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.

Governor Cooper vetoes bill to allow low-performing virtual charter schools to increase enrollment

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday vetoed a bill that would have allowed North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools to increase enrollment by 20 percent a year.

The controversial legislation also would have given the State Board of Education (SBE) authority to allow the schools to increase enrollment by more than 20 percent for any school year if it deemed doing so was in the best interest of North Carolina students.

The bill has been controversial because N.C. Virtual Academy and the N.C. Cyber Academy opened in 2015.  Both have been labeled low-performing every year since then under the state’s testing system.

“Current law already allows the State Board of Education to lift the enrollment cap on virtual charter schools,” Cooper said in a statement. “Both schools have been low performing, raising concern about the effectiveness of this pilot.”

Cooper said decisions about adding more students should remain with the SBE so it can measure progress and make decisions that will provide the best education for students.

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) issued a statement in support of the veto.

“Unproven and unaccountable education methods have no place in North Carolina,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “We applaud the Governor’s veto of SB 392, and hope this sends a clear message to lawmakers that our students deserve better than the broken promises made by virtual charter schools.”

Earlier this month, Jewell joined Rick Glazier, executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center, in asking Cooper to veto the bill.

“Virtual charter schools have symbolic value as the most egregious example of a system of school privatization that has gotten out of control of in North Carolina and it is time to take a stand,” wrote Glazier and Jewell. “Our children and our state deserve better.”

The Justice Center is the parent organization of Policy Watch.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), said he found it difficult to find the difference between the bill that was before Cooper and the governor’s statement about the SBE already having the authority to decide whether to allow the schools to increase their enrollments.

“I’m sorry to say it, but this is political double talk,” said Horn, who co-chairs the House K-12 Education Committee.

It was unclear late Monday whether Republicans would try to override the governor’s veto.

Under enabling legislation, the schools can enroll a maximum of 1,500 student in the first year of operation and may increase annually by 20 percent up to a maximum student enrollment of 2,592 in the fourth year of the pilot program.

The bill cooper vetoed would have lifted the cap to allow the virtual charters to increase enrollment above 2,592 with SBE permission. Read more

SBE will only allow one virtual charter school to increase its enrollment

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.”

North Carolina principal at prospective charter takeover school pushes back

The principal of at least one North Carolina school facing the prospect of a charter takeover is pushing back.

The News & Observer posted a video Friday of Chris Germanoski, principal at Selma Middle School in Johnston County. Selma Middle is one of 41 low-performing, public schools remaining on the state’s list of schools eligible for charter takeover next year, part of North Carolina’s controversial new Innovative School District (ISD).

“We’ve done the research. We’ve put a plan in place,” Germanoski argues in the video. “…Now all we need is an opportunity to enact that plan, to follow through on that plan.”

Schools included on the state list did not meet or exceed growth growth in any of the previous three years and finished with school performance scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide. They also, according to state officials, would not have adopted any of the state’s established reform models in the prior year.

Policy Watch reported last week on the mixed reactions from school district leaders across North Carolina whose local schools were named.

It’s worth noting Selma Middle’s district, Johnston County Schools, was one of two school systems—the other being Durham Public Schools—that officially asked for state leaders to look elsewhere to test the charter takeover model, according to a WRAL report. 

That said, ISD Superintendent Eric Hall said last week that opposition from local leaders won’t sway state leaders from choosing any particular school.

“If the data points to a school that’s been struggling for far too long with too many students not meeting growth, my commitment is to listen to local boards and communities for the rationale,” Hall told Policy Watch. “But my lens is going to be about the kids. My lens can’t necessarily be about what adults want.”

Seven schools have already been removed from the list of eligible schools because they are the recipients of federal grants aimed at school turnaround.

Hall is expected to narrow down the list further by October, with the State Board of Education scheduled to tap two schools for the program’s initial year in December.