Friday, 12 July 2019 13:25

House gives virtual charter school a chance to enroll more students

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RALEIGH — Despite low performance, NC Virtual Academy may get to raise its enrollment by 20% after the House approved legislation granting the enrollment growth.


On Thursday, June 11, the House passed Senate Bill 392, by a vote of 87-26. The bill now goes to the Senate for concurrence.

One section of S.B. 392, the Various Charter School Changes bill, removes the maximum student enrollment cap for a virtual charter school and permits the State Board of Education to allow a virtual charter school to grow by 20%.

Terry Stoops, the vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said the desire for virtual charter options among North Carolina families remains strong.

“Surveys of parents show that they are very satisfied with the education their children receive in a virtual charter,” Stoops said. “Lawmakers should err on the side of parents, rather than test scores.”

The state has authorized only two virtual charter schools as part of a pilot program: NC Virtual Academy and NC Cyber Academy. Only NC Virtual Academy can grow, as NC Cyber Academy is being monitored on a month-by-month basis. NC Cyber Academy lost its operator after a bitter fight over management.

The two virtual schools have been operating since the 2015 school year. Over that period, the schools have earned low marks for student performance. NC Virtual Academy has a “D” on its school report card and hasn’t met growth over the past two years.

Each school enrolls more than 2,000 students.

Some lawmakers have questioned whether it’s wise to allow the schools to serve more students when performance scores are so low.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, introduced an amendment to S.B. 392 which would condition enrollment growth on improved student performance. NC Virtual Academy could increase student enrollment by 20% this year, but to do so the next year it would have to earn at least a “C” on its student report card.

Rep. Amos Quick, D-Guilford, echoing Meyer’s concerns, questioned the logic of rewarding a low performing school with more students.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the virtual schools have taken on students with challenging profiles. Capping enrollment would be a disservice to those students looking for alternative education.

“If lawmakers who supported the proposed amendment truly believed that enrollment allowances should be based on student achievement, they would apply the standard to all public schools, not just the NC Virtual Academy,” Stoops said.

The amendment narrowly failed with 56 lawmakers voting for it and 57 voting against it.

“Taxpayers and those elected to represent them should demand that the school continue to show progress on state tests. That is a reasonable expectation,” Stoops said. “But they must also acknowledge that the school has instructional challenges that are unique to full-time virtual education.”

In other school choice news, the State Board of Education approved two Wake County charter schools despite concerns from Wake County Public Schools System and some PTA groups. During the July 11 conference call, SBE voted 7-3 to approve North Raleigh Charter Academy and Wake Preparatory Academy.

Last month the state education board approved 10 new charter schools, but sent North Raleigh Charter Academy’s and Wake Preparatory Academy’s application back to the Charter School Advisory Board for further consideration. Some Wake County PTA groups and Wake County Public Schools raised concerns about the new charter schools, arguing the saturation of charter schools in the area have contributed to re-segregation and have diverted resources away from traditional public schools.

The Charter School Advisory Board reaffirmed June 10 its approval of the two applications. Some CSAB members said Wake County Public Schools should have voiced reservations earlier.

Charter Schools USA, a for-profit education management company, will run the K-8 North Raleigh Charter Academy. The operator for the K-12 Wake Preparatory Academy is the Arizona-based Charter One.

North Carolina will have more than 200 charter schools by 2020.