Haslam Bill Puts New Rules on Virtual Schools

Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to rein in enrollment at Union County’s rapidly growing online virtual public school after students at the privately operated academy performed poorly on state achievement scores last year, according to the Chattanooga TFP.
Haslam’s bill (SB157) caps student enrollment at the Tennessee Virtual Academy at 5,000. The school accepts students from across the state and now has 3,200 K-8 students after an initial enrollment of 1,800 in the 2011-12 academic year.
The academy is run by the for-profit company K12 Inc. under contract with Union County public schools. That came after a heavy lobbying blitz by company lobbyists who persuaded the Republican-controlled General Assembly to let for-profit companies operate online schools under contract with public school systems.
K12 Inc., which has come under fire on its operations in some states, now faces blow back in Tennessee after results of the academy’s first-year results in the 2011-12 academic year were released last summer.
The school narrowly averted falling into the lowest 10 percent of schools on student performance. Only 16.4 percent of students score as proficient or advance on state tests. Students did better in reading with 39.3 percent of them rated proficient or better.
…Haslam’s legislation would apply to the Tennessee Virtual Academy and any other online schools that come down the path. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is carrying the administration’s package of bills, said Tuesday he had not been fully briefed on the measure.
Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said in an email, “This bill is meant to enhance the accountability for virtual schools, and to base their future growth on demonstrated performance.
“This is not about K12; this is a matter of learning from the first year of implementation of the Virtual Schools Act and making improvements with a focus on student achievement,” she said.
The bill restricts new operators of online schools to no more than 1,500 students. After students demonstrate they are indeed learning through state achievement tests, they can enroll no more than 5,000. That cap also applies to K12 Inc.’s operation, Gauthier confirmed.
Another provision in the bill restricts a county online school’s ability to accept students from outside the local district.

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