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Online Charter Schools Say Withdrawals Are Overstated

As part of the 2013-14 state budget, the State Board of Education is required to study virtual charter schools and propose draft rules.
Ian Usher via Flickr

North Carolina’s first virtual charter schools are challenging a report that more than a quarter of their students have withdrawn. Online charter schools can lose the right to operate if they have withdrawal rates greater than 25 percent.

The two schools say the Department of Public Instruction didn’t use the right formula when it determined 26 percent of their students have left.

North Carolina Connections Academy Principal Nathan Currie says students who never intended to finish out the year in the program don’t count towards the official withdrawal rate, and neither do students who stayed less than 20 days.

"In our world kids are very mobile, kids come to us for a very finite period of time, and we know that," Currie told the State Board of Education at their meeting Wednesday.

DPI school finance director Alexis Schauss acknowledged the report does not give the official withdrawal rate as defined by law.  She explained to the board she used total enrollment and total withdrawals to create the report, since the department didn't have information on the number of students who didn't intend to stay in the program.

"This is a calculation that we actually use a lot as kind of an indicator of student stability in our brick-and-mortar charter schools," she said. "So it's not unusual information to present."

North Carolina Virtual Academy principal Joel Medley told the board his school's official withdrawal rate is much lower than 26 percent. But he said, even if the program did have that kind of withdrawal rate, it would be similar to online schools in other states.

"I don't know that it's the quality of the program, but it is potentially the nature of the model."

Medley told the board he thinks online charter schools should be given even more flexibility in calculating withdrawal rates.

"No other charter school in the state of North Carolina has the sort of Damocles hanging over their head that if we don't meet the 25 percent withdrawal rate we can technically loose our charter or not be allowed to grow."

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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