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Charlotte Area News

NC Virtual School Grows To Nation's 2nd Largest

North Carolina's virtual public school has grown so quickly in its first three years of operation that it's now 2nd largest in the country. Big enrollment isn't always better in public school. But if you don't have to worry about fitting students inside brick walls, it's a different story. North Carolina's virtual public school has been so aggressively recruiting students since it opened in 2007 that it now has more than 73,000 course enrollments. That's second only to Florida, which is the standard-bearer other virtual schools look up to. Florida's online school has been around for 13 years, has course enrollment of 213,000 and a steady source of funding as it's own special school district. North Carolina's virtual public school is still mostly considered a supplement to the regular public school education, says director Bryan Setser. "We provide courses that the students may have trouble accessing in their local school district," explains Setser. "So if they don't have Mandarin Chinese as far as a teacher on site, we can do that. If they can't attract an AP physics teacher, we can come into their district." The virtual school's 113 courses are offered online by certified teachers available by phone and email to coach students. Until this summer, the virtual school's $20 million budget was being allocated by the North Carolina legislature. But now school districts around the state have to pay a fee of about $600 for every student they enroll in an online course. That may slow enrollment growth for North Carolina's Virtual Public School, but so far Setser says districts find it cheaper to pay the online fee than to hire a teacher and add offer the course themselves. The virtual public school is now developing online courses students can take directly from their mobile phones.