A judge in Wake County, N.C., has ruled that a statewide virtual school, which had drawn the opposition of dozens of local school boards, cannot open because it was not authorized by the state's board of education.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones late last week concluded that the North Carolina Virtual Learning Academy had not gone through the necessary legal process when it was given preliminary approval by a local school district, the Cabarrus County Board of Education.
The entity seeking to open the school, North Carolina Learns, had gone to the local county for approval after the North Carolina state board of education said it would not be considering applications from virtual schools for the 2012-2013 school year, saying more time was needed to clarify state policy on virtual charters. In May, an administrative law judge ruled that the school could open because the state had essentially failed to act, one way or another, on the virtual academy's plans.
But on Friday, Judge Jones disagreed, ruling that the state board "is constitutionally and statutorily the sole body charged with authorizing and overseeing the operation of charter schools in North Carolina."
That had been the position of many school boards across North Carolina, at least 90 of which as of a few weeks ago had asked to join a legal action seeking to block the opening of the virtual school. Not only did the authority to approve a statewide virtual school rest with the state, the boards argued, but the new academy would also have sapped their per-pupil aid, without giving them time to plan for the loss of students and funds.
In his decision, Jones made note of the financial impact of the virtual school on North Carolina school districts, and he questioned whether a local county had the expertise to make an informed judgement about what was necessary to run a statewide charter school. The school was to be managed by K12 Inc., a major, nationwide for-profit educational provider.
"[The] Cabarrus County Board of Education is not experienced in, nor equipped as the [state board], with the staff and know-how to review, evaluate, and approve the application of a charter school designed to serve a statewide clientele, nor is it authorized to give final approval for such an operation," he wrote. The financial impact of the virtual school on other districts, "along with issues of content, methodology, and quality control militates heavily in favor of the [board] fulfilling its constitutional and practical role of deciding whether and when such virtual schools should be allowed."
Chris Withrow, the chairman of North Carolina Learns, Inc., said in a statement that his organization is considering its options, including an appeal.
"We are particularly disappointed and frustrated that the state board of education ignored our charter school application and never gave us a fair hearing," Withrow said. "The legislature passed a law lifting the charter school cap with the intent to provide more public school options to children throughout North Carolina. By not acting on our application and by unilaterally declaring a moratorium on certain types of charter schools, the state board has undercut the charter school law and will of the legislature."