Proposed Virtual Charter Tries To Force State School Board Review

May 1, 2012

North Carolina Virtual Academy would be based in Cabarrus County, but it would take students from across the whole state. The students would take all classes online. The North Carolina State Board of Education approved nine new charter schools to open next year. A proposed online charter school isn't among them. The group is now taking legal action against the board. 

North Carolina Virtual Academy would be based in Cabarrus County, but it would take students from across the whole state. Students would do their work at home, so geography or the size of a schoolhouse wouldn't be a limitation.

At issue is how much funding the schools should receive says Larry Price, the director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. "It's a different animal and we're trying to apply rules from the past in a different kind of charter school in a virtual environment," says Price. The school would receive just as much taxpayer money as any other charter.

That's the problem, according to Price and other critics. The school wouldn't need as many teachers and it wouldn't need to maintain a campus. Most of the money would go to a for-profit company called K12 which runs similar schools in 29 states.

Price is on the state's E-Learning Commission. The state board has asked the group for guidance on virtual charters. "Before the state board moves forward with consideration of the very first one of these, they need to have a good set of rules established," says Price.

But rules take time and the virtual academy's lawyer, State Senator Fletcher Hartsell, says state law required the school board to review the application this spring. Hartsell helped draft the state's charter school law sixteen years ago.

The state lifted the 100 school cap on charter schools last year. At that time, the school board set up the Charter Schools Advisory Council. The group made its recommendations to the board this spring for new charters trying to set up in time for next school year. But the virtual academy took a different path. It got its first round of approval through the Cabarrus County school board and then sent its application to the state board. The board did not review it.

Now, Hartsell wants an administrative law judge to force the state board to review the school's application. State board chairman Bill Harrison has said he supports virtual education, but he also said online charters bring up policy questions that need to be sorted out both in terms of finances and curriculum.