North Carolina has no online charter schools, but the state is getting ready for them. The state board of education is considering a list of policies to guide these schools. It includes paying them less per student than a regular charter and capping the student to teacher ratio.
Online charters are not your typical schools. For one, there’s often no schoolhouse. You can do all your learning from a screen at home. Science, Math, English classes are all online. There are teachers, but usually class sizes are much larger than at a regular brick-and-mortar school.
Partly for those reasons, state board of education chairman Bill Harrison thinks online charters should be treated differently, especially when it comes to funding. The state offers its own virtual classes and judging from that, Harrison says, “It doesn’t cost what it does to educate a student in a bricks-and-mortar building. So we think there needs to be a significant adjustment.”
The proposal would give online charters about $3,600 per student. That’s the same amount the state charges districts for a full load of virtual classes. It’s also about $1,500 short of what most charters in the state receive.
The issue came to a head earlier this year when a group wanted to open a virtual charter school based in Cabarrus County. That school would’ve been run by a for-profit company called K12, Inc. The group wanted about $5,000 for each student it enrolled across the state.
For that reason, the state board thought it was time to address how to judge online charters. Joel Medley helped draft the proposals. He runs the state’s office which monitors charters.
“There are other states that are learning from the fact that maybe they need to look at different funding mechanisms,” says Medley. “They need to be more explicit and these are the academic and performance expectations that we’re going to put upon the schools as we’re going to allow them to grow.”
The proposals include limiting class size to 50 students per teacher and allowing the state board to close a virtual school if too many kids withdraw.
State Senator Fletcher Hartsell says that’s all well and good, but the state board can’t actually make these changes.
“I’m reasonably confident they will be challenged, unless the General Assembly changes the underlying law,” says Hartsell.
He may even be the one to challenge the policies, since as an attorney he represents the group trying to open the online charter in Cabarrus County. At least as far as funding, school board chairman Bill Harrison agrees he’ll need lawmakers to go along with that change.
The school board plans to vote on the policies early next month.