by guest blogger Mike Bock
Georgia's largest statewide virtual school is facing harsh criticism from state education officials for not doing enough to help students with special needs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week. State board of education members argued that the Georgia Cyber Academy, which has 1,100 special needs students enrolled, is not meeting guidelines issued by the state education department, and said the school needs to hire more special needs teachers. The newspaper reported that:
Board members said GCA has not increased its capacity to assess and teach its special needs students, despite a repeated push from the Georgia Department of Education. In unusually harsh language for a board that typically supports charter schools, members ripped (school head Matt) Arkin and GCA.
Arkin indicated he was surprised by the tenor of the board members' reactions, as he said the school received a positive evaluation from a consultant appointed by the Georgia Department of Education.
"Any time the DOE has come forth with concerns, we've been very transparent and are very timely with our responses," Arkin said. He addressed the criticism in a letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is at the bottom of this post.
The school was recently evaluated by state education officials to identify any improvements needed. Lou Erste, the charter schools division director for the Georgia Department of Education, said the state will present its evaluation report of Georgia Cyber Academy to the school's officials by the end of next week.
Georgia Cyber Academy is affiliated with K12 Inc., the nation's largest for-profit operator of online K-12 schools. The company is, of course, no stranger to scrutiny.
Georgia might be considered one of the more charter-friendly states in the country, as voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution last week that would allow a state commission to approve charter schools. The controversial amendment was embraced by Gov. Nathan Deal but opposed by state superintendent John Barge.
Several charter networks across the country have opened their doors to special needs students, as at least seven states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah—have voucher programs for students with disabilities.