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Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Meets; Discusses Virtual Charter School Pilot Program

NC Flag This week, the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee held its first meeting of the interim between legislative sessions. The Committee focused much of the meeting on delving into the issues facing virtual charter schools. The Committee’s full agenda and documents available and presented to the Committee can be found here.

The virtual charter schools are currently in year three of the four-year virtual charter school pilot program. Both virtual charter schools currently operating, NC Connections Academy and NC Virtual Academy, presented to the Committee on their programs and their progress. First, however, Ms. Stephanie Clark with the Office of Charter Schools in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction presented the Committee with academic performance and various data points for both virtual charter schools. Of note, for the 2016 and 2017 years both schools received school performance grades of “D”s and did not meet growth in either year. Additionally, though both schools enroll around 2,000 students, both virtual charters saw 529- 642 student withdrawals in each of the last two years. These high withdrawal rates are despite the fact that lawmakers no longer force the schools to count certain students who leave, including those who withdraw within 30 days of enrolling.

The Committee next received a presentation from the North Carolina Connections Academy. The presentation addressed school demographics, achievements and improvements, and the school’s most critical needs. The presentation noted that 69% of the students enrolled in the virtual school were previously enrolled in a public school, while 21% of the students were previously homeschooled. The school’s superintendent and board chair ended the presentation with requests for General Assembly action to support the following:

Virtual School Funding – It was presented that current levels of funding are not sustainable. The presentation noted that virtual charter schools receive $0.60 for every $1.00 a traditional public school receives, and $0.74 for every $1 a brick and mortar charter school receives. The presenters asked the legislature to increase virtual charter school funding to that of traditional charter schools at $7,905 per student.

Remove Pilot Status – The school requested the legislature to make the virtual charter school a permanent option in North Carolina.

Policy Needs – The school asked that virtual charter school students be treated the same as brick and mortar charter schools students by equalizing local funding. The school also wants flexibility in state testing for virtual charter schools by allowing online testing or expanding the time window for testing. Next, the North Carolina Virtual Academy provided the Committee with a presentation on its virtual charter school. As Committee time was running short, this presentation was much briefer than the previous presentation. It was noted that although there are currently over 170 brick and mortar charter schools in operation, the virtual charter schools provide the only alternative to traditional public schools in 40 LEAs. The presentation also went over student demographics of the school and the future existence of the school, noting that the pilot program was coming to a conclusion in 2019.

Adam Pridemore