A virtual done deal

From an editorial Tuesday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Last year, the legislature directed the State Board of Education to approve a pilot program allowing two virtual charter schools to operate for four years. Two applied.

What a deal. Millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent on a risky educational experiment that has met with mixed reviews in other states.

The requirements in the directive are lax. A school must provide just one teacher for every 50 students in grades K-8 and 150 students in grades 9-12, yet receives the same per-pupil state funding as other schools, plus up to $790 per student in local money.

As far as academic standards, “participating schools must have a withdrawal rate below 25 percent.” The State Board of Education will conduct an evaluation after three years.

Not surprisingly, some board members seemed uneasy last week when they questioned representatives of the two applicants, N.C. Connections Academy and North Carolina Virtual Academy. They brought up unsatisfactory experiences in other states but apparently resigned themselves to following the legislature’s orders. They’ll make the official decision to award contracts next month.

The role of money should worry taxpayers. Public school districts will lose funding to private companies that, incidentally, are active in making donations to political parties and organizations.

The legislature obviously didn’t want a fair examination of virtual charter schools, or else it would have given the State Board of Education the option of deciding they aren’t right for North Carolina. Instead, the state may learn an expensive lesson.