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Testimony on virtual ("cyber") charter bill - SB 619, 1-18-12

The House Education Committee held more hearings today on the remainder of the bills in the so-called “parent empowerment” package. We offered testimony opposing one bill in particular: Senate Bill 619, which would remove any limits on the number or enrollment of entirely online charter schools, called “cyber schools” in the bill. While the use of online learning has been growing, the focus of this bill is on K-12 schools which have no physical location and serve students entirely over the internet.

Under current law, two such virtual schools were allowed to begin operations for the 2010-11 school year, and their enrollment was limited at 400. The schools were allowed to increase enrollment, up to a higher cap, if these students were identified as school drop-outs in state records. The authorizers of these schools are required to submit a progress report on the schools after two full years of operation, including recommendations for whether and how to expand these programs.

SB 619 would remove, immediately, any limits on the number of virtual schools or their enrollment, and remove any requirement that they be targeted to a particular student population. The language about the two-year progress reports would have been removed by the Senate-passed version of SB 618 (which removes caps on charter schools and has been signed into law), but that language was restored by the House.

In our testimony (attached below as a PDF), we express concern that removing all limits on virtual schools would open the floodgates for programs that are in fact still experimental. Experience in other states has been problematic, both in terms of the quality of the education delivered and the appropriate use of public funds. (We reprint below the list of news articles we attached to our testimony.) Under these circumstances, MIPFS believes that it is unwise to expand virtual schools until the state has had a chance to evaluate the performance of the existing schools and to take steps to avoid the problems experienced in other states. We therefore oppose SB 619 and urge the House to retain current law.

Recent news articles on the experience with online, “virtual,” schools:

Success of Florida Virtual School is difficult to measure
By Rebecca Catalanello and Marlene Sokol
Tampa Bay Times – Sunday, January 8, 2012

Students of Online Schools Are Lagging
By Jenny Anderson
New York Times, January 6, 2012
Far fewer of them are proving proficient on standardized tests compared with their peers in other privately managed charter schools and in traditional public schools.

Virtual charters lag other public schools’ performance, report says
Lori Higgins
Detroit Free Press, January 6, 2012

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools
By Stephanie Saul
New York Times – December 12, 2011
A look at the largest online school company’s operations raises serious questions about whether its schools — and full-time online schools in general — are a good deal for children or taxpayers.

Investigation Finds Lax Oversight of Online Education
By Burt Hubbard & Nancy Mitchell
Education Week – October 6, 2011

Test Scores Raise Questions About Colo. Virtual Schools
By Burt Hubbard & Nancy Mitchell
Education Week – October 5, 2011

Education Week: Public Schools Also Lose When Online Students Fail
By Burt Hubbard & Nancy Mitchell
Education Week, October 3, 2011

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