TN Virtual Academy Builds Enrollment, Controversy

About 2,100 students have signed up for virtual classes with the Union County school system, which has about 3,000 regular students, reports Chas Sisk.
As of last week, 872 students had been cleared to take classes, and 941 applicants were still being processed. An additional 341 had asked to transfer into the school from other districts.
The school, known as the Tennessee Virtual Academy, combines elements of home schooling with the requirements of a public school and the emerging field of distance learning. But only six weeks after it was launched, the school has plenty of critics.
The Tennessee Virtual Academy takes advantage of a state law that went into effect July 1 that allows districts to set up “virtual schools” open to any student in the state. Funding comes entirely from state tax dollars, at no cost to the districts or parents
….”Home schools have, in the past, not had their expenses paid by the state,” said Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, which represents public school teachers. “Should the state be paying a for-profit company to be educating kids at a kitchen table on a computer?”
Proponents, however, say virtual schools are less costly and supplement the options already available to parents, including private, magnet, charter and traditional public schools.
“It’s another option. It’s another choice,” said Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 (which operates the virtual school).
…Funding for the school comes from the state, which allocates money to districts through its Basic Education Program. Union County will receive about $5,300 for each student who enrolls in the school.
The district’s relationship with K12 was set this summer in a no-bid contract, which is allowed under state law because the company is the only vendor that can operate a school that is entirely online, (Union County School Superintendent Wayne) Goforth said.
The contract lets the district keep 4 percent of the state’s funding as an administrative fee. The rest will be passed along to K12, which pays teacher salaries and provides materials, including computers.
K12, which is publicly traded, reported earnings of $21.5 million last year on revenue of$384.5 million. The company has been in operation since 2000 and has set up online schools like the Tennessee Virtual Academy in 29 states. K12 also offers other distance learning services.

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