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Online Charter Schools in North Carolina Petition to Go From Pilot to Permanent

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One of North Carolina's two full-time online charter schools—which opened as part of a temporary pilot program—is asking state lawmakers to make the schools permanent.

Officials with North Carolina Connections Academy also requested more money from the state at a Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee meeting earlier this month, according to WRAL, an NBC affiliate. 

That's in spite of the fact that the schools have earned poor marks from the state's accountability system in the three years they've been operating. Lawmakers in the meeting indicated that they want the schools to present more information on their performance at a follow-up meeting.

The schools, which are run by the nation's two largest, for-profit virtual school companies, got the green light to open in 2014 as part of a four-year pilot. It was the culmination of a long lobbying campaign by K12 Inc., the bigger of the two companies, as I reported in a 2016 Education Week investigation that looked at these lobbying efforts nationwide.

In the three years leading up to the passing of the pilot program, K12 Inc. recruited a handful of well-connected current and former state policymakers to make the case for a virtual school law. The company spent nearly half a million dollars on retaining lobbyists, according to lobbying expenditures examined by Education Week. (To read K12 Inc.'s response to Education Week's investigation, which includes details about North Carolina, click here.)


Ed Week Investigates: Online Charter Schools Bring Lobbying 'A' Game to States 


The pilot program was passed as part of the state's budget bill. The new law required the board of education to authorize two online charter schools. The only two applicants were for schools backed by K12 Inc. and Connections Education, the second largest online school operator which is owned by education giant, Pearson. Both were approved.

For the 2016-17 school year, North Carolina Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc. and North Carolina Connections Academy, run by Connections Education, received "D" grades, same as the prior year.

However, Connection's grades climbed from a C to a B in reading, and an F to a D in math. North Carolina Virtual Academy's grades remained a C in reading and an F in math.

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