David Curtis

State Sen. David Curtis

Members of the state’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee will be looking into North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools following a presentation last week requesting permanent operation and increased funding.

“It’s my understanding that the two virtual charter schools are doing pretty well,” state Sen. David Curtis, a Denver Republican whose district includes Lincoln County, said. “There’s a small niche of students and this seems to be the best program available for them. I don’t think it will ever be very big, but I fundamentally believe that parents should have a lot of control over how their kids are educated. If a parent believes that a virtual charter is the best choice for that particular child, then I would support giving them that option.”

N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy were launched in 2015 and are now in year three of a four-year pilot program. The two schools combine to serve more than 4,000 students from across the state.

Virtual charter school students take online lessons with physical materials and other offline tools. Students interact regularly with certified teachers through email, telephone and live, online instruction classrooms. Classes are taught through textbooks, DVDs, science lab supplies and other hands-on resources and eligible families may receive a loaner computer depending on financial need.

Each school earned a D from the state over the past two years as a measure of their academic performance. The schools were also designated as “low-performing” due to a failure to meet expectations for student growth.

N.C. Connections Academy made progress last year, however, raising its math grade from an F to a D and its reading grade from a C to a B. N.C. Virtual Academy, on the other hand, has posted an F in math and a C in reading for two consecutive years.

The leaders of the two schools addressed the state’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee last week, seeking permanent operation first and foremost. They’ve also requested increased funding to match that of traditional, brick and mortar charter schools, citing their need to subsidize internet access and computers for underprivileged students.

“They made some pretty good arguments that their pilot status is hindering them,” Curtis said. “People are not comfortable committing to these schools because they’re worried that they may go away soon. I thought that the data they presented and the arguments they presented were valid enough for us to take a hard look at it. I don’t know what our conclusion would be, but I certainly think that their arguments justify us taking a hard look.”

The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee is considering scheduling another meeting with the leaders of the two virtual charter schools to take a deeper dive into the past two years of operation. Any prospective legislation that may come out of this committee work would likely be introduced to the entire legislature when the North Carolina General Assembly returns to session next year.

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