House Gives Final OK to Haslam’s Virtual Schools Bill

The House approved 66-29 on Tuesday a bill that revises rules for operating for-profit virtual schools and sent it to the governor, whose administration drafted the measure as part of the Haslam administration legislative package this year.
The bill (SB157) was approved after about half hour of debate, mostly devoted to the Republican majority killing amendments proposed by Democrats. One of them, offered by Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville, would have repealed the 2010 law that authorized operation of for-profit virtual schools in Tennessee, leading to establishment of Tennessee Virtual Academy in Union County by K12, Inc.
Another Stewart amendment would have prohibited operation within the state of a for-profit virtual school that is partly owned by a convicted felon. Stewart said that was aimed at Michael Milken, who owns an interest in K12 according to some media accounts.
The Democrat-sponsored revision attempts were all defeated on party-line votes.
The bill itself, sponsored for Haslam by Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, imposes a 1,500-student cap on enrollment on new virtual schools launched in the state. But the limit would not apply to Tennessee Virtual Academy, the only for-profit virtual school already in operation.
The bill also declares that a virtual school that has below standard student performance for three consecutive years, can be closed by the state commissioner of education. The commissioner would also have the option of imposing an enrollment cap on such a school. The existing academy had poor performance results in its first year of operation.
Brooks said the bill gives the commissioner options in pushing to improve schools and gives students and their parents options as well.

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