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eLearning Update: Considering Caps and Cash

Massachusetts education officials are considering enrollment caps for virtual public schools, while Georgia officials are reconsidering a funding formula for virtual charter schools.

In Massachusetts, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering two different caps to limit virtual charter enrollment in response to a recently passed state law giving local school committees the sole power to open these schools, The Boston Globe reports.

One cap would limit enrollment to 500 students per virtual school and the other would mandate that at least 25 percent of enrolled students in a district's virtual school reside in the district.

Proponents of the measures say the state will still allow virtual school experimentation, but needs some mechanism to limit unchecked growth. Opponents of the measures claim any financially sustainable school would have to draw the bulk of its students from outside the district, since virtual courses are expected to draw interest from a small portion of students within the district.

Massachusetts has nearly 400 school districts, with a mean enrollment of roughly 2,400 students per district, according to data on the state education department's website.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the Georgia Charter Schools Commission will revisit the state's funding formula for virtual charter schools after two newly approved high schools said they can't open this fall under current funding arrangements.

Cyber charters Kaplan Academy of Georgia and Provost Georgia Academy would stand to receive about $3,500 per student, a figure set by the commission last month in part because virtual charters may receive only federal and state funds, while brick-and-mortar charters receive matching local funding.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) says the national average for funding of virtual charters is about $6,500 per student, and has pushed for "fair and equitable" funding in the state.

Those virtual schools would have been the first cyber high schools in the state. However, high schoolers in Georgia may be able to attend a full-time virtual school, the Georgia Cyber Academy, but won't know for sure until mid-August, says an article in the Online Athens. The Georgia Cyber Academy currently serves students through 8th grade and has petitioned the state's Charter School Commission to extend offerings to ninth graders. However, the petition was denied last month because of board governance issues and the school's failure to meet state performance benchmarks in math.

If the Georgia Cyber Academy amends its charter to address those issues, it could be approved in August, allowing the rising 8th graders to continue learning in a full-time virtual environment and providing the only full-time online coursework for high schoolers in the state.

Digital Education blogger Katie Ash contributed to this report.

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