Georgia’s largest online school paid millions, earns a D

Local Education

By Ty Tagami

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated: 3:04 p.m. Friday, July 22, 2016Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, July 23, 2016

Georgians spend tens of millions of dollars a year on one of the biggest online schools in the nation, yet nearly every measure indicates the high-tech, online education model has not worked for many of its more than 13,000 students.

Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

The charter school’s leaders say they face unique challenges, with large numbers of students already behind when they enroll. They have plans to improve results but also claim the state’s grading methods are unfair and inaccurate. However, the state disagrees, and if the academy cannot show improvement soon, the commission that chartered the school could shut it down.

Since it opened with a couple thousand students in 2007, the academy has grown to become the state’s largest public school, with students from all 159 counties. In the 2015 fiscal year alone, it reported receiving $82 million in state and federal funding.

Parents such as Dione Ansah praise the academy as an attractive alternative to regular schools. The DeKalb County resident chose it for her two daughters after she lost her job and could no longer afford private school. The neighborhood middle school had a reputation for violence, she said, adding, “there was no way I was going to send my kids there.”

Families choose the academy for a variety of other reasons, such as a desire to learn at an individual pace, a medical condition that keeps kids at home or a need for a flexible schedule for work, such as a student with a budding acting career.

Evelyn Bailey, who graduated in May and will attend an Ivy League university this fall, said she was exposed to a diverse group of students through the classes and occasional organized field trips. Bailey thrived while attending class and doing homework on a computer screen in a windowless corner of her Douglasville basement.

“You have to be the kind of student that enjoys having more responsibility,” said Bailey, 18. “You have to be good at managing your time.”

Too few students apparently share her drive and temperament. The academy earned a “D” for 2015 from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The academy scored near the bottom in the state that year for “growth,” a measure of how each student did on standardized state tests compared to others with similar past performance.

The graduation rate of 66 percent lagged behind the state average by 13 percentage points. Reading ability in third grade, a key marker of future academic success, also lagged, with 47 percent of its students able to digest books on their grade level versus a state average of 52 percent.

The State Charter Schools Commission, established in 2013 as an alternative to going through a school district to start a charter school, authorized the academy in 2014-15. The commission requires its schools to meet annual academic, financial and operational goals in three of the first four years of operation. The academy, which had operated for seven years under the Odyssey Charter School in Coweta County before obtaining its own charter, did not perform as required in its first year as an independent school. It scored one out of a possible 100 points on the academic portion of its evaluation, which assesses performance, mainly on standardized tests, compared to traditional schools. The results for 2015-16 are still being calculated.

This scoring system was not in place when the academy board signed the charter, and the school has not yet agreed to use it. But Bonnie Holliday, the commission’s executive director, said the school isn’t meeting goals under the original scoring system either.

“In the event standards are not met in future years,” she said, “the school is at risk for non-renewal in 2019.”

The academy is beset by many of the same problems that bedevil traditional public schools, including a high and rising number of students from families with meager incomes. Sixty nine percent of the academy’s students in 2015-16 were considered low-income under the federal school meal program; that’s 7 percentage points higher than the state average but below some metro Atlanta districts.

The school also grapples with high turnover. One in four academy students leaves each year; and about a third of the students are new in any given year, said Matt Arkin, the school’s founding head. It takes a year or more to adapt to a classroom on the computer, he said, adding that the performance looks better when counting only those who’ve been there for several years. For instance, for the 42 percent of students who start and finish high school there, the graduation rate is 85 percent. That is 19 percentage points higher than the school’s overall rate.

Some parents and teachers say large class sizes make it difficult for teachers to deliver on the school’s premise of harnessing technology to tailor teaching to each child.

“That’s all a lie; maybe in the younger years, as long as the teacher doesn’t have 70 kids,” said Sherry Horton. Her son did fine there, but her two daughters struggled in high school and couldn’t get their teachers’ attention, Horton said. She withdrew them. “If you put your kids in that school, know that you need to be on top of it every day with the teachers,” she said.

Arkin said class sizes are larger than he’d like, averaging 50 students. He said staffing is limited by tax money the school gets: more than $5,000 per student versus about $9,000 on average for Georgia schools.

As a state charter school, the academy gets no local property tax dollars. And the commission gives it less money per student than its other charter schools with school buildings to maintain, buses to fuel and lunches to cook.

Another problem mentioned by former teachers: attendance.

Jennifer Phillips, who taught seventhgrade English at the Academy several years ago, said a small proportion of her students showed up regularly for her online classes.

“Attendance was definitely a problem,” said Phillips, who left after one year, disillusioned.

Students can watch recordings of the classes later.

Some also said students whose parents weren’t monitoring them could misbehave and be disruptive, doodling on a PowerPoint slide projected to the whole class instead of demonstrating how to solve the math problem on it.

Others said disciplinary problems were minor compared to brick-and-mortar schools. Kelly Brooks, a current teacher at the academy, left a traditional middle school job after tiring of misbehavior. “Boys and girls at that age, they’re just so distracted by each other,” she said. Now, when kids misbehave, she can turn off their ability to speak to or send messages to their classmates.

She said there are other advantages with the technology. Students feel emboldened to approach her because they can send her what they might think are dumb questions without embarrassing themselves in front of their peers.

“So as long as a student is interested, they’re going to get way more out of this than in a traditional classroom,” she said.

While some students exploit that opportunity, the school’s overall performance suggests most are like Keontavious Hankerson, a Burke County student who liked his teachers but felt uninspired by the online experience.

His mother, Mary Webb, enrolled him in the academy two years ago after county teachers “gave him real bad grades because he couldn’t focus.” His performance improved the first year, when his father’s work schedule allowed him to stay home during the day and push him. The next year his father’s schedule changed, and Keontavious was left home with only a slightly older relative. He floundered, Webb said. She was impressed that the school provided a computer, books and even printer ink, but said she will re-enroll him in the county this fall.

Keontavious, 15, said he missed being around other kids. “I didn’t like being at home,” he said. “It was hard for me to stay on the computer.”

School officials acknowledge the problem: Self-driven students or those with parents who can push them tend to do best while those with less support often struggle.

“We’re a school that really seeks to challenge high performers, and push them to new heights. At the same time we’re a dropout prevention and dropout recovery school,” Arkin said.

About four in five at the high school level and about half of the younger kids came to the academy after falling behind at their prior school, he said.

The school pays K12, a for-profit company, to provide technology and curriculum services, including $36.9 million in 2014-15.

Mary Gifford, a senior vice president at K12, said Georgia’s growth measure is inaccurate at grading schools with extremes of high- and low-performers and high student turnover.

The state disagrees, saying their school grading model uses test scores in a way that is “reflective” of those characteristics.

Ryan Mahoney, chairman of the academy’s nonprofit board, dismissed the likelihood of being closed. The first year’s results were based mainly on the 2015 Georgia Milestones tests, which, he noted, were waived for low-performing traditional schools since the tests were new. If the commission sticks to its rules, he said, most of the agency’s 15 schools that were around in 2014-15 would have to close.

“I’m sure that’s not what the commission intended,” he said. He wants the commission to change the way it grades schools. He also wants more money for the school.

Holliday, the commission’s executive director, said schools might get a reprieve if they meet standards by the fourth year of their contract, but added any underperforming school is at risk of closure “regardless of whether it’s one school or 10 schools … any school operating under the assumption that commissioners will give them a pass for poor performance is mistaken.”

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who spoke at the academy’s graduation ceremony, is optimistic about the school, but said it must make do with current funding.

“They have a very efficient model for the delivery of education, and they should be maximizing that,” he said. “K12 as an institution needs to be less concerned about money and more concerned about student achievement.”

He said charter schools like the academy prod traditional schools to improve and that it has the potential to be a “disruptive” force for education in the way Uber is changing transportation. While the academy “clearly is not at the highest standard that we would like,” he said, it is serving “many students at a very, very high level.”

Online charter schools have drawn critical attention nationwide, even from charter advocates. In mid-June, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools called for change, citing research that found online charter schools had turned in “large-scale underperformance.”

Karega Rausch, vice president of research for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which helped with the report, said virtual schools in Georgia and across the country are doing poorly on a host of measures. “There’s a whole lot of corroborating evidence to suggest there’s a problem,” he said. “A lot more authorizers need to close a lot more virtual schools. Period.”

Arkin said his turnaround plan includes more advisers to help new students adapt and a new data system in middle school to help teachers analyze student performance and adjust their teaching. And he said the school is getting better, noting that some of its scores on the state’s report card climbed closer to the state average in 2014-15 from the year before, when the academy operated under Odyssey.

Even parents who are critical said it would be a shame if the academy closed, since it provides an alternative in some parts of the state where there is no other.

Susan Rachel’s daughter spent a year in the academy. Now, Rachel, from the Augusta area, is complaining about class sizes, harried teachers, students slipping profanity onto the electronic blackboard and, ultimately, a model of education that didn’t seem to be all that different from traditional public school. She described it as “the factory model in your living room, spitting out kids as fast as you can enroll them.”

But don’t close the academy, she said. Parents need an alternative: “I mean, it’s better than nothing.”

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article

Former L.A. charter school leader fined for conflict of interest

A former local charter school operator has agreed to pay a $16,000 fine for misconduct that includes using public education funds to lease her own buildings.

Under a tentative settlement with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, Kendra Okonkwo acknowledges that she improperly used her official position “to influence governmental decisions in which she had a financial interest,” according to documents posted Monday by the state agency.

The settlement or “stipulation” notes two instances of wrongdoing: establishing leases for the school in two buildings that Okonkwo owned and arranging for public funds to pay for renovations to these structures.

The school, Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists, lost its charter to operate and closed last year.

Parents at 20th Street Elementary confront district’s rejection of their takeover attempt

“In this matter, Okonkwo engaged in a pattern of violations in which she made, used or attempted to use her official position to influence governmental decisions involving real property in which she had a significant financial interest,” the commission said.

Okonkwo declined to comment, but the commission cited several factors for not imposing a larger fine, including that “Okonkwo understands the seriousness of the violations and accepts responsibility for her actions.”

The South Los Angeles school, which opened in 2006, had been targeted by regulators for several years.

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The violations cited this week by the state date from 2010 and 2011, when Okonkwo earned a total of $223,615 as the elementary school’s executive director. She also received about $19,000 a month in rent from the school. She attempted to eliminate the appearance of conflict by assigning the property to a new, separate corporation, for which her mother signed the leases. But the arrangement did not pass legal muster, according to the state.

The other violation pertains to Okonkwo signing contracts for school-funded renovations worth $62,000. Okonkwo addressed this conflict by resigning as executive director. Someone else then signed the renovation contract.

Charters are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses. Wisdom Academy began under the jurisdiction of the L.A. Unified School District, which refused to renew the school after its initial five-year charter expired.

A report to the school board cited “serious concerns pertaining to violations of conflict-of-interest laws against self-dealing on the part of the school’s executive director as well as insufficient governance by the … board of directors.”

The L.A. Unified action did not close the school because, under state law, a charter can appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which chose to take over as the supervising agency.

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But the county office eventually turned against the school as well, revoking its charter in 2014, and leading to its shutdown at the end of the last school year.

The county cited a report by state auditors, who concluded that administrators may have funneled millions in state funds to Okonkwo, her relatives and close associates.

Charter school awarded $7.1 million in case against LAUSD

Charter school awarded $7.1 million in case against LAUSD

Some of the allegations bordered on the bizarre.

Auditors questioned, for example, the use of school funds to pay a $566,803 settlement to a former teacher who sued the organization for wrongful termination after she was directed by Okonkwo to travel with her to Nigeria to marry Okonkwo’s brother-in-law for the purpose of making him a United States citizen.

The organization’s payment of the settlement was inappropriate because Okonkwo was not acting within the scope of her school employment, auditors concluded.

The school took its fight to survive all the way to the state board of education.

Follow the Times’ education initiative to inform parents, educators and students across California >> 

In papers filed with the state, Wisdom’s leaders accused auditors and the county office of misconduct and “open hostility … against this African American operated school,” calling it “the culmination of years of unfair treatment and retaliation … because a few [county office] staff members dislike our school’s founder Kendra Okonkwo, her family, the thickness of her accent, and the color of her skin.”

State officials declined to overrule the charter revocation.

Twitter: @howardblume 


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Maine’s new virtual charter school sees 25% enrollment drop since opening

The Maine Charter School Commission may explore ways to better inform students about what to expect, perhaps with a ‘tryout’ week.

Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Maine’s newest charter school, Maine Virtual Academy, has seen 25 percent of its student body withdraw from the school since it opened this fall and continues to have a high number of “truants” who are not logging on enough for their lessons, school officials say.

At the 90-day mark for the school year, 76 students in the initial class of 297 had left the school, according to a Dec. 31 report by three members of the Maine Charter School Commission who are assigned to oversee the school.

On Tuesday, commission Chairwoman Shelley Reed said representatives of K12 Inc., the for-profit online education company that was contracted to provide Maine Virtual Academy’s curriculum, told the commission they should expect to see an initial 20 percent to 25 percent withdrawal rate.

But Reed said the commission may explore ways to better inform incoming families about what to expect, to lower the withdrawal rate. Suggestions include requiring students to take a “tryout week” in the school.

“People have to have a general understanding of what to anticipate,” she said, after the commission’s regular monthly meeting at the State House.

“We need to find a better way,” said commission member Jana Lapoint, agreeing that a tryout period is a good idea. “Maybe a better screening job.”

Maine Virtual Academy board member Peter Mills said Tuesday that school representatives explain to prospective students and families what the school will be like, but the school must, by Maine law, accept any applicant. As more successful students return in subsequent years, the withdrawal rate is expected to decline, he said.

Mills said Tuesday that some students left because they weren’t prepared for a virtual school experience, which requires each student to log on from home, be self-directed and work closely with an at-home learning coach, usually a parent or relative. The school, like all charters, has attracted students who are unhappy with their previous schooling, or have had trouble at previous schools, he said.

“We’re dealing with a certain segment of the student population that has apparently got some problems and they have come to us as a last resort …” he said, adding, “I’m deeply concerned about this phenomenon.”

Supporters of virtual schools say they are good for students who may not fit in at traditional schools, such as athletes in training or students who have been bullied or have special needs. But virtual charter schools also have drawn criticism, in part because local school boards outsource their management to for-profit companies that are beholden to shareholders.

Maine Virtual Academy holds exit interviews with departing students, and reports those results to the commission. That information includes how long the student was enrolled, their reasons for leaving and where they will go to school next. The information wasn’t available for public release Tuesday because students’ names and other identifying information hadn’t been removed, said Bob Kautz, the commission’s executive director.

Some students who were listed as having dropped out never even logged on – so they effectively never attended the school but are still registered as withdrawals, he noted.

Mills didn’t have details from the exit interviews, but the board had requested that information from school officials.

Maine Virtual Academy has a contract with K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, the nation’s largest online education company, for academic services. The state’s other virtual charter school, Maine Connections Academy, contracts its services from Connections Academy, a division of Maryland-based Connections Education, a for-profit company that is owned by Pearson PLC in London, a multinational corporation that formulates standardized tests and publishes textbooks for many schools in the United States.

A spokesman for K12 Inc. didn’t return calls Tuesday regarding the national average for the first-year withdrawal rate at their other schools nationwide.

According to a research study in July 2012 by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, virtual schools tend to have higher withdrawal rates than physical schools, indicating parents may see virtual schools as a temporary service. Citing a K12 Inc. report on student performance, the study said that 23 percent of students in K12 schools around the country were enrolled for less than a year and 67 percent had been enrolled for fewer than two years.

The withdrawal rate at Maine’s other virtual charter school, Maine Connections Academy, was 11 percent 90 days after it opened in the fall of 2014. This year, its 90-day withdrawal rate had dropped to 7 percent.

Mills said K12 provided the school with a locally hired family support liaison at no cost whose responsibility is to support the students and family, and address the withdrawal and truancy issue.

The school’s exact truancy rate was not available Tuesday, commissioners said.

The school also is struggling to get students tested, officials said. Only about 60 percent of students this fall took the NWEA test, which is supposed to be used to set a baseline for assessing student growth – a key factor in evaluating whether a charter school is successful and whether its contract with the state should be renewed.

Mills said that he thought the testing rate was related to the issues with the truancy and withdrawal rate, and that many of the families who are attracted to charter schools also dislike standardized testing and traditional education.

Commission chairwoman Reed said the commission intends to request more data from Maine Virtual Academy and continue site visits and meetings.

The school has kept a steady enrollment because it filled vacant positions with students on a waiting list, Mills said. That means its overall enrollment, used to calculate state payments, has not changed significantly and there is minimal impact on its budget.

While state funding for Maine students follow the student, there is no significant impact financially on MVA students’ traditional school districts if they return, because the state budgets payments based on an estimated enrollment for the school year, and then on actual headcounts of students Oct. 1.

A 2012 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of K12 and Connections Education showed that Maine’s digital education policies were being shaped in ways that benefited the two companies, that the companies recruited board members in the state, and that their schools in other states had fared poorly in analyses of student achievement.

Both Maine Connections Academy and Maine Virtual Academy received approval to open only after significantly changing their business plans to require more direct management by the Maine-based boards, and decreasing the role and authority of K12 and Connections Education.

Also Tuesday, the commission said the state was withholding $441,000 earmarked for the commission, requiring it to tap into its surplus to make up for a higher-than-expected per-pupil cost.

The state had estimated paying $14 million overall to the charter schools, but the actual cost was $14.7 million. Kautz, the executive director, said the commission could afford the one-time cost while the state Department of Education works out whether the funds were considered a loan to be repaid by the state or a permanent one-time cost to the commission.

Kautz said the main reason for the higher-than-expected costs was that the charter schools enrolled more special education students, who have a higher per-pupil rate – about $8,000 more per student.

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Insolvent school's charter sized up for revocation


POSTED: LAST UPDATED: 04:57 p.m. HST, Jan 08, 2015


Kilinahe Nahoi, a parent, and Laara Allbrett, Halau Lokahi Public Charter School director, walk to South Beretania Street for a sign waving event on July 28 to garner public support for Halau Lokahi. “We are fighting for education,” said Allbrett.

The commission overseeing public charter schools moved Thursday to begin shutting down the financially strapped Halau Lokahi Public Charter School Thursday, ending a months-long struggle to keep the Hawaiian-focused school afloat.

The nine-member Charter School Commission voted 6-2 to issue a notice of revocation to the Kalihi school, representing the first step toward closing the school. The school will have a 30-day window to appeal. If upheld, it would be the first time a Hawaii charter has been revoked.

Tom Hutton, the commission's executive director, said staff will immediately begin reaching out to parents of the school's 114 students in kindergarten through high school to help find alternatives.

Students were scheduled to return from winter break Tuesday.

The commission had asked Halau Lokahi's governing board to come up with a financial sustainability plan over winter break before deciding whether to release another round of per-pupil funds to the school.

Elizabeth Blake, a school improvement consultant who was named acting director of the school, presented a plan to bring on a mainland curriculum provider to deliver instruction online for secondary students, taught by certified K12 Inc. teachers.

Under that plan, the company, K12 Inc., also would provide $150,000 to help fund operations through the end of the school year – if a proposed memorandum of understanding was signed to pay the company a percentage of future revenues for the remaining 2.5 years of Halau Lokahi's charter contract.

“Give us a chance to go through this semester and show you that we will turn this school around,” Blake told the commission. “I feel like were being nailed to the wall for other past practices.”

The school had run out of money before the end of the last school year, and stopped paying its rent and staff. It ended that year with a $502,000 debt. The school has about $90,000 in estimated outstanding debts.

In June, the commission required the school to replace its governing board and longtime director and founder, Laara Allbrett, and come up with a financial plan that would carry it through the school year, before they allowed it to reopen. But the campus again faced a shortfall, as enrollment fell below projections.

Some commission members viewed the proposed online component with K12 Inc. as too big of a shift from Halau Lokahi's approved academic plan.

Hutton called the plan a risky undertaking, even for a school that wasn't insolvent.

“This is a very different way of doing education in this school. … This discussion started two days ago, and school starts next week. That is, from our standpoint, pretty risky when you're talking about kids,” he said. “This would be a big challenge for a very highly functioning school. This school is not a highly functioning school. This is a severely challenged school on all levels and it's being asked to do a very, very ambitious change in how it does everything.”

Amid the financial scrutiny, the school has come under investigation by the state Attorney General's office, which executed a search warrant at the school in November, seizing financial and personnel records as well as computers. Soon after, school co-director Callei Allbrett, Laara Albrett's daughter, was put on administrative leave.

If the issues were not so serious, watching test-and-punish advocates backpedal in the face of the rapidly growing testing resistance movement would be great entertainment. From U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan crying crocodile tears about the impacts of the very policies he advocated, to Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Grist’s sudden embrace of an even longer suspension of the graduation testing requirements she long defended, to Florida Governor Rick Scott promising a commission to review the testing overkill his political allies imposed (a stalling tactic also adopted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie), politicians are beginning to wake up to the power of grassroots activism. At the same time, courageous local leaders — such as a Colorado Superintendent, several Florida school committees and the Vermont State Board of Education — are pushing the envelope by calling for a moratorium on standardized testing to allow for development of better assessments.

No question that 2014-2015 is going to be a most exciting school year for assessment reformers as PBS education reporter John Merrow makes clear in his predictions!

Colorado District Superintendent Wants to End Standardized Testing

Feds Tell Florida: Test English Language Learners in English ASAP

Palm Beach School Board Considers Opting Out From Florida State Testing

Hundreds Endorse Lee County Opt-Out Petition (now almost 1000 signers)

Florida Lags on ACT . . . Again

Governor Calls for Review of Florida Standardized Testing Policies

Undermining Kindergarten in Illinois, One Test at a Time

Chicago Teachers Report on How to Organize a Test Boycott

Illinois Super Tells Parents What Matters Most in Education

New Massachusetts Teachers Union Head: How Tests Are Failing Our Schools

Concerns Grow as New Mexico Shifts to Computerized Testing

New Mexico Teachers Say State Evaluation System Does Not Effectively Measure Performance

Why New York State Common Core Test Scores Should Be Ignored

Final Opt-Out Numbers Show Movement Jumped in New York City

Wanted: The Whole Truth About New York State Exams

Rhode Island Commissioner Back Tracks: Now Supports Longer Delay in Grad Test Requirement

Texas Suspends Math Grade Promotion Test Requirement

Vermont Calls on Feds to Overhaul NCLB Testing Policy

See Vermont State Board of Education Resolution

Vermont Secretary of Education Speaks Out Against Standardized Testing

Federal Stubbornness Falsely Labels Washington Schools as “Failing”

Parents Want an End to the Testing Obsession

Kindergarten “Sweat Shop” Testing Frenzy Comes Under Fire

Predictions for the New School Year: Growing Resistance to High-Stakes Testing Tops the List

Duncan Offers States One-Year Postponement on Test-Based Teacher Evaluation

See FairTest News Release

Administrators Pledge Ethical Treatment of Children Whose Families Choose to Opt Out

Report Urges Fewer Tests, More Peer Review

Education News: Groundhog Day All Over Again?

Standardized Testing Is Really Great: Two Poems

Public TV Airs Two Videos Showing Excellent Schools Using Healthy Assessment (check websites for dates, times and channels)

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director

FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing

office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779

mobile- (239) 696-0468


via Diane Ravitch’s blog

Suburban group takes aim at state charter school commission

By Elena Ferrarin

A suburban group wants to get rid of the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which they argue shouldn’t be able to overturn decisions made by local school districts.

About 10 members of Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice met Saturday morning at the St. Charles Public Library to kick off a campaign to repeal the legislation that created the commission in late 2011.

NIJJ spokeswoman Mary Shesgreen exhorted people to meet with their state representatives to push for the initiative.

The commission shouldn’t be able to make such decisions because its nine members are appointed, not elected, Shesgreen said. She’s planning to meet with state Sen. Mike Noland on Tuesday, she added.

“We want SB 79 rescinded,” Shesgreen said. “We have democratically elected school boards, and they represent the will of the people.

Before the commission’s creation, charter school applicants could appeal local denials to the Illinois State Board of Education, whose members are also appointed, charter school commission chairman Greg Richmond said.

“There are many, many appointed bodies in this country,” he said.

Shesgreen said the group also plans to fight any future attempts by Virtual Learning Solutions to start an online charter school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in 18 school districts from Algonquin to Plainfield.

Virtual Learning planned to contract with K12 Inc., a leading online curriculum company that manages virtual charter schools in 33 states.

After the plan was rejected by all 18 school boards, Virtual Learning began the appeal process with the charter school commission last month.

Richmond said the commission will vote Tuesday on a recommendation by its executive director, Jeanne Nowaczewski, to deny the appeal.

That recommendation is based on legal analysis of a one-year moratorium on establishing new virtual charter schools signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in late May, Richmond said.

NIJJ members also charged that commission members are pro-charter schools, and not impartial when hearing appeals.

Richmond disputed that by pointing out that most local school board decisions have not been reversed.

Three charter school appeals were approved by ISBE in 15 years, while the commission has approved two out of 11 or so appeals so far, he said.

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State bans new online charter schools for 1 year

New law follows rejection by several school districts in western suburbs of nonprofit’s proposal for online program

May 27, 2013|By Melissa Jenco, Chicago Tribune reporter

(Tribune illustration)

Illinois has put a one-year moratorium on new online charter schools outside Chicago at the urging of a handful of west suburban school districts.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation Friday. It also directs a state commission to study issues such as student performance and costs associated with virtual charter schools.

“This legislation will allow the state more time to better evaluate and understand the impact of virtual charter schools in Illinois,” Quinn’s office said in a statement.

Earlier this year, nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions proposed starting the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley in the western suburbs. The online school would serve students in kindergarten through high school and would be managed by K12 Inc., a for-profit company that runs similar schools around the country, including in Chicago.

Proponents have said the virtual school would give families a choice and an individualized education, but each of the 18 districts that would have been affected, including those in Naperville, Aurora, St. Charles, Geneva and Elgin, turned down the proposal. They cited concerns about curriculum standards, funding, support for students, accountability and teacher quality.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, proposed the one-year moratorium that passed in the House last month with an 80-36-1 vote and the Senate this month with a vote of 46-7-2.

“It’s a great opportunity for our state to take a look at the charter language and charter regulations,” said Dan Bridges, Naperville Community Unit School District 203’s superintendent. “Certainly when it was originally written it wasn’t anticipating any sort of virtual schooling, so this is an opportunity for us to really take a good look at the regulations appropriate for such proposals as we just experienced.

Virtual Learning Solutions President Sharnell Jackson said the group will keep pushing to open the school.

“If that’s what it takes, a one-year moratorium, for people to understand online learning and choice, options for students, then so be it,” she said.

The Illinois State Charter School Commission had previously scheduled appeal hearings for June. In the wake of the moratorium becoming law Friday, Executive Director Jeanne Nowaczewski said the commission’s legal counsel is looking at how to proceed and will make a statement this week.

“I think 18 local school boards have spoken very loudly in the fact they are not in support of this virtual charter, and I appreciate the governor’s support of the legislature in putting a halt to that at this time until they have a process and regulations in place around a 100 percent virtual charter,” said Kathy Birkett, superintendent of Aurora-based Indian Prairie School District 204.