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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
News of the pending closure of the Carroll County Virginia Virtual Academy is heart-breaking. A long-term solution has been in reach for the last three years.
Legislation I introduced would have created a funding model that would have capped expenditures at about 25 percent less than is currently being spent in traditional brick-and-mortar-style learning environments. It would save money for government, spending less for education while providing families choices in the manner in which students learn while maintaining Virginia curriculum and standards, including meeting requirements of the Standards of Learning tests.
I have also fought for legislation creating a statewide and state-governed program that would allow for greater oversight, more accountability and a predictable and common-sense funding mechanism that would have avoided the enrollment fees Carroll County imposed. It is those fees with which the Roanoke Times editorial staff (“A raw deal on virtual schools,” editorial, May 3) seems to take umbrage.
Adopting the governing model for other Virginia statewide schools that have been around for decades, and successful models in other parts of the country, the legislation I introduced would invite more tax-exempt and tax-paying entities to participate in the virtual learning process. This would include local school districts that become approved statewide providers, like York County and Chesterfield County have opted to do.
Many families would prefer a system in which students did not have to pay an enrollment fee. My understanding is that Carroll was not promised a $500 enrollment fee, but chose to charge parents.
The “refereeing [of] issues” that The Roanoke Times editorial claimed were so taxing for local school officials included helping ensure that the needs of special education students were being met.
Currently, Virginia has 20 approved statewide providers, reviewed and vetted by the Virginia Board of Education and the Departmentof Education. Only one or two are providing statewide services in Virginia.
There are about 275,000 students in full-time virtual education across the United States. Unfortunately, our commonwealth is lagging behind. In Virginia, one provider was serving fewer than 600 students one year, while the wait list grew to 1,500 families before the provider stopped accepting new additions to the list.
The demand for this opportunity is here. But the political infrastructure does not exist to maintain a robust and growing educational program for Virginia’s families.
According to K12 Inc., the Virginia-based virtual education provider that operated the Carroll program, of the students enrolled in Virginia:
n 10 percent are in families of active duty military who may use this program as they move from state to state.
n 13 percent are special needs students.
n 10 percent are medically unable to attend school, including many Virginia residents with terminal diseases, sometimes seeking treatment in other states.
Many of these students cannot learn in traditional classrooms, based on family or medical needs.
In 2012, Virginia was able to pass legislation I introduced at the behest of Gov. Bob McDonnell to provide additional accountability for virtual schools by more accurately reporting test scores and SOL outcomes. However, I believe a statewide school would provide an even better mechanism for accountability from among the various 20 approved statewide virtual education providers in Virginia.
We as a state either have to rely on 19th and 20th century models for learning, standing with the agents of the status quo, or look boldly into the future about how learning will take place in the 21st century, as it does in other states.
I hope the education establishment, both candidates for governor and my colleagues will join me and Virginia’s families, especially our active-duty military and special-needs families, in putting children first as we expand and protect educational opportunities for Virginia’s families.
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