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Virtual Charter Schools Coming To NC

Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday we reported that state education officials were expected to vote on whether to approve two virtual charter schools to open next fall.

The schools would serve up to 3,000 students who would take all of their classes at home and interact with students and teachers online. Supporters have argued that it would help students who don’t thrive in traditional settings – especially those dealing with health issues, athletic schedules, or bullying.

Critics, however, contend that it would take dollars away from the already cash-strapped traditional public schools and divert it to for-profit companies that have shaky reputations in other parts of the country.  

The General Assembly required last year that the state create a four-year pilot program for two virtual charter schools. Only two schools applied: North Carolina Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc.; and Connections Academy, to be managed by Connections Education.

WUNC's Reema Khrais attended the vote Thursday, and the two online charter schools were approved.

Here's more of Reema Khrais' original reporting about the online charter schools:

Accountability and Access

K12 Inc, a for-profit education company, has run into trouble in other states:

  • Tennessee Virtual Academy has been ordered to close next year because of poor student performance
  •   A virtual school in Pennsylvania severed ties with the company following complaints of lack of resources.

For months, state board of education members have been raising questions over accountability and access, arguing that they will only approve the schools if they’re qualified.
“The applicants have gone through a very thorough process,” said board member Becky Taylor. “I hope other states have taken them through the process that we have taken them through.”

At a meeting Thursday, members discussed the issue of learning coaches. The state’s contract with the virtual charter schools requires that they provide learning coaches for students who may not have a parent or responsible adult to supervise and help them stay on task.   

But there was disagreement over whether the schools should “ensure” that every student has a learning coach or whether it “must provide” learning coaches for students who don’t have them.

Board member Evelyn Bulluck argued that if the nonprofit boards running the virtual public schools couldn’t provide learning coaches then they would be “excluding a segment of the population.”

“We’ve got a lot of at-risk students whose parents cannot assume this responsibility, and that’s trouble to me,” she said.

But Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest said that it would be difficult and unnecessary to require the nonprofit boards to provide a learning coach.

“Virtual charter schools are not for everybody,” he said. “I don’t know how the nonprofit could actually provide a better learning coach than a family member.”

The State Board of Education is expected to clarify that point before the vote Thursday morning. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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