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After Closing Virtual Charter School, Pa. Authorizes Four More

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The Pennsylvanian Department of Education announced Monday that it authorized four new virtual charter schools to open this school year, seemingly undeterred by the controversy that ultimately led it to close a virtual charter school last week.

The four schools will all be based in Philadelphia, but serve students across the state. Virtual charter schools are paid on a per-student basis through local school districts, which in turn receive a set amount of funding from the state.

The four approved schools are:

  • ACT Cyber Charter School
  • Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School
  • Esperanza Cyber Charter School
  • Solomon World Civilization Cyber Charter School

As we reported just a few days ago, Frontier Virtual Charter High School decided to shut its doors (close its log-in pages?) after a prolonged battle with the state education department. The state accused the school of mismanagement, obstructing state investigators, and not living up to its charter. After the state ordered it to close, the school refused, denying the allegations. Last week Frontier decided to close, claiming it couldn't afford to continue its appeal.

Frontier only served 85 students, but provided more fodder for the heated debate over virtual charter schools in the state. Another virtual charter school, Agora Cyber Charter School, was the focus of a scathing article in The New York Times in December due to its low performance on adequate yearly progress ratings under the No Child Left Behind Act. The article put both the company that manages the school, K12 Inc., and virtual education under the microscope, especially in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania enrolls more than 32,000 students in virtual charter schools, among the highest enrollment in the country. With four new schools authorized and Frontier closing, there will be 16 virtual schools operating in Pennsylvania next year. As part of a report claiming the state's financing of charter schools is "flawed," Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner determined cyber charter schools received $10,145 per student, consistent with brick-and-mortar schools.

The state did reject three other virtual charter school applications, due to "deficiencies in their applications," the announcement said. The rejection letters sent to those schools outline inconsistencies in financial management plans, contradictions of state law, and, in the case of Mercury Online Charter School of Pennsylvania, "no evidence, in any subject areas, of a complete curriculum framework which clearly describes content."

Even those accepted provide an interesting look into the increased scrutiny from the state.

All of the four approved schools were initially rejected, though that is somewhat common for first reviews of charter applications. For instance, Solomon World Civilization will focus on foreign language and global learning and hopes to enroll 1,200 K-12 students in five years, according to its application. But in January the state rejected the application because there was not sufficient evidence the school could provide what it claims it would, and "demonstrated little awareness of Pennsylvania requirements for the education of English-language learners."

After the school resubmitted its documents in May, it was approved. But in the approval letter, the state still warned that Solomon's English as a Second Language (ESL) program provided "limited evidence of an instructional model based on sound educational theory." The approval letter also says "there was no evidence of how the school will assess the professional development needs." The school must resubmit those plans within 60 days of opening in August.

If you really want to have some fun, you can read all of the Pennsylvania's rejection and approval letters for the 2012-2013 school year right here.

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