Education Committee to Consider Moratorium on New Virtual Charter Schools
The state Assembly's education committee will meet Thursday to consider a 12-month moratorium on the establishment of new virtual charter schools.
The state Assembly education committee will hold discussions on Thursday to consider slowing down the establishment of new virtual charter schools in New Jersey.
The committee will discuss establishing a 12-month moratorium on new virtual charters and the creation of a Virtual Charter School Task force.
Five charter schools that are full-time or online hybrid schools were already approved, but have not yet been granted final charters by the state Department of Education. The New Jersey Virtual Academy, which has 850 students signed up for next year, would be managed and staffed by the nation's largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, K12 Inc.
The publicly traded K12 Inc. received criticism in the New York Times for trying to "squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards."
A study by researchers at Western Michigan University and the National Education Policy Center showed that just one-third of K12’s schools achieved adequate yearly progress in measurements under the No Child Left Behind mandates.
Ronald J. Packard, chief executive of K12, told the Times that K12’s test scores are an inaccurate measure because many students are already behind when they arrive. K12 states that their program is well-suited for families that choose homeschooling, children in military families, athletes and performers training for competitions or careers, and children who are homebound for any number of reasons.
In virtual charter schools, students work from home and communicate with teachers by phone or in online classrooms. K12 charges $60 a course for online services to elementary and middle school students, $75 per course for materials and $75 per student for computers, according to the Times. The Washington Post reported K12 earned $522 million in revenue last year.
State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), who is the chairman of the education committee, told NJSpotlight he is seeking to send a message that the state shouldn’t move too quickly with a plan that has significant opposition.
“I’m not looking for a long-term moratorium but something short term so we can at least get some information,” Diegnan told NJSpotlight. “Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a time out.”
Diegnan plans on discussing K12’s role as a for-profit, publicly traded company. Diegnan also has concerns over how the schools are monitored and funded, with New Jersey's current charter law having no plans in place for virtual charters. None of the applications for charters currently in front of the state are for virtual schools.
"Virtual, or cyber-charter schools do exist in other states," said Mike Vrancik, director of governmental relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "However, other states have statutes specifically governing cyber-charters, as opposed to standard charter schools. New Jersey charter school law, enacted in 1995, is silent on the matter of virtual charter schools. Applying the 1995 law to the establishment of cyber-charters could have a negative impact on the host district's finances and the programs it is able to provide to students enrolled in its traditional schools."
The Assembly education committee will discuss virtual charters at 1 p.m. Thursday in Committee Room 11, on the fourth floor of the State House Annex in Trenton.
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