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In a Rare Move for the Sector, Indiana's First Online Charter School to Close

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After years of receiving failing grades from the state, Indiana's first full-time online charter school will shut down at the end of the school year, according to local media reports.

The charter school's own board voted this week not to re-up Hoosier Academies Virtual's charter contract, because it didn't believe the school could make a successful case for renewal.

The fate of the school, which currently enrolls around 1,750 students, had been in limbo for a couple of years as state officials continued to defer taking action on closing the school, despite assigning it a failing grade for six consecutive years. That track record had led to the state board of education to ban the school from enrolling more students last May.

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The head of the Hoosier Virtual, Byron Ernest, sits on the state board of education. He has recused himself from all decisions related to the school's fate.

The move to close Hoosier Virtual is notable because it's very rare for an online charter school to be shut down, even when it's failing to meet academic benchmarks, as I wrote in an investigation by Education Week into full-time virtual charter schools last fall:

Despite more than a decade of state investigations, news media reports, and research that have documented startling failures and gross mismanagement in full-time online schools, the sector—dominated by two for-profit companies—continues to expand, spreading into new states and enrolling more students. Virtual charter schools, which collectively receive more than $1 billion in taxpayer money each year, are rarely shut down.

The reasons are often a mix of weak state regulations, the millions of dollars spent on lobbying, and the support of well-connected allies, more than a dozen policymakers, advocates, and researchers told Education Week.

As part of that investigation, Education Week reviewed hundreds of news stories and dozens of state audits and reports across the country. You can see all of that information compiled here in an interactive map:

Cyber Charter Schools: Widespread Reports of Trouble

Hoosier Virtual Academy is run by one of those two aforementioned companies, K12 Inc., which is based in Herndon, Va. It is the country's largest operator of online charter schools. (To read K12 Inc.'s response to Education Week's investigation, which includes details about Hoosier Academies Virtual School, click here.)

Despite a string of studies showing that students in full-time virtual charter schools often perform much worse academically than their district-school peers, the niche sector has received at least a rhetorical boost recently from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has held up online education oppoortunities a way to provide school choice to rural students. DeVos also used to invest in K12 Inc. 

School officials from Hoosier Virtual have blamed student absenteeism for much its academic struggles. Getting students to show up and log in to their classes is a persistent problem facing cyber charters nationally.

Although Hoosier Academies Virtual will be shut down, two other online schools run by K12 Inc. and the same school board, including one that was spun off from Hoosier Academies Virtual last year, will remain open in Indiana.

"Our intention is to give our families and teachers as many options as possible," Hoosier Academies Virtual school board president John Marske told the Indianapolis Star. "Meanwhile we are also focused on improving results of the Hoosier hybrid school in Indianapolis, as well as the Hoosier Insight school."

Related stories:


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