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Carroll County saw weaknesses in its contract with a virtual school company. Will the state do the same?
Friday, May 3, 2013
When Virginia’s first statewide virtual school opened in 2009, it looked to be a good deal for the private operator and its host, Carroll County, but a bad deal for state taxpayers.
Now the Carroll County School Board has concluded it’s getting a raw deal, too, and voted to end its contract with the for-profit K12 Inc.
It’s no surprise that K12 was the only party thriving under the arrangement. The company had a seat at the table when Gov. Bob McDonnell and lawmakers drafted a law allowing virtual schools in the state. It also has given $140,500 in campaign gifts to state politicians since 2007, including $55,000 to McDonnell, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Carroll County leaders have shown they can take care of themselves. Now state officials must step in to make sure Virginia’s students don’t fall through the cracks because of their failure to ensure full accountability for virtual schools.
The Carroll school board had good reason to feel it was being used. The rural county’s sparse resources enable it to collect more state aid per pupil than most localities. By persuading the county to host the Virginia Virtual Academy, K12 qualified for the same enhanced funding, even though many of its students live in wealthier Northern Virginia, and the company itself has its headquarters there.
Carroll charged a $500 registration fee for each out-of-district student, but the county discovered it was spending too much time refereeing issues that cropped up with students living in 29 other localities. Just five of the more than 350 students in the academy live in Carroll. Further, the county assumed liability if accommodations for special education students were found wanting.
Some city and county school systems are starting their own virtual schools, a model with clearer lines of responsibility.
But for-profit virtual schools have attracted criticism. Maine, New Jersey and North Carolina have imposed moratoriums. K12 this year settled a shareholder lawsuit accusing it of misreporting national academic performance. Its Virginia school meets federal academic targets for reading, but not math.
K12 is looking for another Virginia host, and a second virtual school company operates in the state as well. Legislators should re-examine how they reimburse these businesses and how they oversee the results. At a time when the state has reduced its support for public schools, taxpayers should not be paying more to private companies, and students should not be getting an inferior education.
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