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School Board joins opposition to NC virtual charter school

The Henderson County School Board voted 6-1 on Monday to join more than 60 other school boards across North Carolina the state in opposing a state virtual charter school that could drain money from local school districts.

The Cabarrus County School Board authorized the application of the North Carolina Virtual Academy, a for-profit online charter school that projects a starting enrollment of 2,720 students that would double in seven years. Before the charter submitted the local application, the state Board of Education directed its E-Learning Commission to study the idea and develop standards and evaluation measures for online schools. A state administrative law judge ruled on March 18 that, because the state school board had failed to act, North Carolina Learns could start operating this August.
The Henderson County school system will be required to send a per pupil amount for every child that enrolls, including those who had previously been home schooled, Jones told the board in a memo. He asked the board to join the lawsuit on behalf of the state school board, which has been sued by North Carolina Learns.
"If you have any students that live in Henderson County and sign up, you would actually lose local funding for those students," said board attorney Dean Shatley. "That and some of the accountability issue have been questions that have been unanswered." The loss of funding "could be potentially catastrophic in that you have over 1,000 home-schooled students in this district and if all of them signed up you could lose a large chunk of money."
Shannon Baldwin voted no, based on his opposition to a part of the resolution critical of Cabarrus County's role.
"I understand the concern. I also believe we're looking at the wave of the future, and I think you're going to see more of this," he said. "I like the thought of competition. Perhaps that's something we start to offer and another student from another county decides to sign up, we could see those funds follow that student into our county, and I like that idea."
Other board members and schools superintendent David Jones said the county not only is at risk of losing money but could be pouring money into an unproven solution.
"It's not that we're saying this is bad. We're saying the mechanics they have in place is really not the way to go about it," Jones said. "They sign up to take a virtual class, but then they don't finish it. The money's already gone."
Among the reasons cited in a resolution was that the local School Board has set a 2012-13 budget without anticipating the charter schools' cost and that early data on student achievement in virtual charter schools "reflects significantly low student performance and graduation rates.
If the court allows the charter school to start, it will do so without oversight of its operating costs, quality of education and impact on local school districts. The School Board "does not believe that a single local board of education, accountable only to the people of Cabarrus County, should be in a position to make a decision that impacts students and school districts across the state," the resolution said.
The new charter school projects that it will receive $6,753 per student — $18.6 million in its first year, rising to $34.5 million annually in five years.
The N.C. Virtual Academy is supported by a nonprofit group of North Carolina residents known as N.C. Learns, but the school will be managed by K12 Inc., a national for-profit company that operates online schools in 29 states, the News & Observer reported.
In March, K12, a publicly traded company, projected the company would have revenues of $685 million this year, 83 percent of which would come from the taxpayer-funded schools it manages, the N&O reported.
The New York Times reported in an article in December that K12 makes a profit by drawing money from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards. A K12 spokesman said the article was one-sided and inaccurate.