Virtual charter schools off to a slow disappointing start

RALEIGH — N.C.’s only virtual charter schools are on a four-year pilot program that ends 2019. However, both schools, N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy, posted failing grades their first year. There was only minor improvements in their second year. Now the head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to fund more cash into the program and extend operations beyond 2019.

Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, pitched his K-11 program to state lawmakers and the Charter School Advisory Board. The Charter School Advisory Board assists the State Board of Education in crafting charter policies and fields charter applications. This virtual charter school serves 2,100 students. N.C. Connections Academy earned the following grade of an overall performance grade of “D” in 2016-2017. The school’s reading score increased from a “C” to a “B”  while its math score had improved from an “F” to a “D.”

However, N.C. Virtual Academy, the other virtual charter in the state program, reported a “C” in reading and an “F” in math in each of the last two school years.

Currie presented a similar pitch to the legislature’s Joint Education Oversight Committee, also asking for more funding.

Under the state’s pilot program, launched in 2015, North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools receive approximately the same funding as typical, “brick-and-mortar” charters. However, they are not entitled to per-pupil cash designated for low-wealth and small counties. State law also caps local funding amounts per student at $790.  Currie argued that virtual programs have roughly the same costs as traditional school facilities.

Many public school advocates are critical of for-profit affiliated virtual charter programs with dismal academic results and soaring dropout rates.

State lawmakers made no decisions on virtual charters, but expect the matter to return in a pending committee discussion.