Virginia’s first statewide virtual school likely to close
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The Carroll County School Board plans to end its partnership with the contractor that operates Virginia’s largest full-time statewide virtual school, effectively shutting down a program that serves more than 350 students.
The decision to close what was also the state’s first online school deals a blow to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s goal of expanding virtual education options. It also leaves hundreds of families, including many in Northern Virginia, in the lurch for the coming school year.
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“Carroll County has definitely pulled the rug out from [under] everyone,” said Cherie Nielsen, a parent leader of the Virginia chapter of Public School Options, an advocate for nontraditional public schools. “We are scrambling.”
The School Board in the southern Virginia county voted in mid-April to discontinue the contract, citing administrative and liability concerns. But families around the state did not find out about the change until late last week, when they received an e-mail from the Virginia Virtual Academy.
Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 Inc., the Herndon-based company that operates the school, said the decision also came as a surprise to the company. “We are aggressively looking for a new partnership” to keep the school open, he said.
Taxpayer-supported, privately operated virtual schools have been receiving increased public scrutiny, including criticism of their performance and their funding arrangements.
Last year, a K12 shareholder filed a class-action suit alleging that the company had made false statements about students’ academic performance. The company agreed to a $6.75 million settlement this spring.
About 275,000 students nationwide are enrolled in full-time, publicly funded virtual schools, and enrollment has been growing about 30 percent a year, according to Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade association.
Virginia offers online courses through the state’s Department of Education, and many districts, including the Fairfax County school system, are creating virtual schools available to their own students.
But the Virginia Virtual Academy, which opened in 2009, was the first attempt to offer a full-time program to students statewide. A second statewide program opened in 2012 and serves about 130 students through a partnership between K12 and King and Queen County. Another statewide school was briefly available through the school system in Buena Vista City, near Lynchburg, but the contract was not continued.
Developing such programs often proves difficult as online communities of students and teachers try to take root in school systems that have long operated brick-and-mortar schools at local taxpayer expense and with local school board control.
Some states have created statewide school districts to oversee virtual schools, but Virginia’s constitution gives local governments jurisdiction over public education. So K12 must offer its online curriculum through local school districts.
The partnership with rural Carroll County had a distinct financial advantage for the for-profit company. Carroll County receives more in per-pupil state aid than most districts, because of a formula that favors poorer districts, and all of the virtual academy’s students are counted as Carroll students, regardless of where they live.
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5/1/2013 2:38 PM PDT
I did not like a company taking advantage of our efforts to equalize opportunity around the state, which involve paying far more per student in rural or poor areas. This company’s response was to look at the list of school districts like a menu, pick the one with the largest per student payments (because of those local conditions), and then act like a vacuum and suck up that money, contributed by all Virginia taxpayers, even though the service they provided had nothing to do with that locality and served kids in more affluent parts of the state. This took gaming the system to a whole new level and I am glad it is over.
Jaime McCament responds:
5/1/2013 4:05 PM PDT
Fairfax voter you have the right to your opinion and I would never tell you otherwise but do you even know how much money it costs to send my special needs son to a regular public school? Do you even understand that when he was in the regular public school that he was far ahead of the kids in his class but they didn’t offer him a way to succeed just holding him back to work with the slowest kids in the regular general education class? People who think that they know all about how this school works and how it doesn’t help students are clearly wrong. My son is succeeding at home and does far better than he ever did in school. He gets one on one schooling instead of stuffed in a classroom with a bunch of kids who bully and pick on him. That is not my opinion that is a fact, because of this ruling my son will be left without a school. A lot of families will be left without a school. I paid $500 to send my kid to Carroll County and K12 got one cent of that money it went straight to Carroll County.
6:59 AM PDT
Face it fairfaxvoter1, you have something against businesses charging for things that your liberal mind things should be free.
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