5/30/12 Local board joins suit to delay virtual charter school

Local board joins suit to delay virtual charter school
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 5/30/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   Most members of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education agreed last week to join a lawsuit that attempts to delay the opening of what would be the state’s first virtual, or online, charter school.

   The board approved a resolution supporting the position of the N.C. School Boards Association. Approving the resolution makes the local school board a party in the lawsuit titled North Carolina Learns, Inc. v. State Board of Education. Costs of the lawsuit will be covered by the N.C. School Boards Association Legal Assistance Fund.

   Among local school board members, Jackie Cole, Mary Erwin, Brad Evans, Kristen Moffitt, Patsy Simpson and Steve Van Pelt voted for the resolution. Tony Rose voted against it.

   Simpson said she supports “parental choice” in education but was willing to support the resolution based on some of the concerns raised.

   If done right, Simpson said, “I can see it potentially helping children.”

   “All this does is delay it” if the lawsuit is successful, Van Pelt said, without necessarily preventing future efforts at creating a virtual statewide charter school.

   Rose said he didn’t necessarily oppose the resolution’s sentiments but had not received it in time to vote for it without more research. He mentioned getting the resolution about 4:30 p.m. the afternoon of the meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m.

   Unless its efforts are successfully challenged, North Carolina Learns, Inc. plans to open a virtual charter school in August 2012 with a projected initial enrollment of 2,750 students from different parts of the state. It was approved to operate as a charter school by the Cabarrus County Board of Education. That county is in south-central North Carolina, near Charlotte.

   Before that application was granted, the resolution says, the State Board of Education asked the state’s E-Learning Commission to study virtual charter schools and develop standards the state board would use to evaluate applications for those schools.

   In May, a state administrative law judge ruled that because the State Board of Education had not taken action on the application, it was considered granted.

   The resolution mentions money the virtual charter school would receive based on the number of students enrolled in it. Otherwise, the money would go to traditional public schools based on higher enrollment figures there. That could have an impact if home-school students who would otherwise have continued to be homeschooled enrolled in the charter school.

   It also mentions the lack of accountability and oversight for a statewide online school and says“early data on student achievement at virtual charter schools in other states reflects significantly low student performance and graduation rates.”

   Referring to the Cabarrus County school board, it says a“single local board of education” should not be allowed to make a decision that affects students and school districts throughout the state.

   Van Pelt mentioned the Cabarrus County system would get a small percentage of the money provided to the virtual school: “It looks like it’s a moneymaker to me.”

   He acknowledges research on how such schools have performed in other states is “mixed” but said he feels more study is needed.