For-profit charter ban could close online option
(Calif.) Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign legislation Monday banning for-profit operation of charter schools in California has been hailed by supporters as closing a critical hole in public education policy.
At the same time, however, the bill removes an educational option that some parents believe critical for some 25,000 students that receive all their instruction online.
AB 406 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, prohibits a charter school from being operated by a for-profit corporation or for-profit charter management organization after July 1, 2019.
According to the author, the need for the bill comes from the growing number of charter schools that are either established and run by for-profit companies or are managed by for-profit groups under contractual relationships.
A 2016 report from researchers at the University of Colorado found that the number of for-profit Education Management Organizations grew from five to 97 since 1996. The number of schools being run by the EMOs has also grown from six to 840.
There are an estimated 462,000 students nationally enrolled in charter schools run by for-profit EMOs.
In California, McCarty said, there are 34 charter schools run by EMOs, with a combined enrollment of more than 25,000.
K12 Inc., the largest EMO in both California and the U.S., is a key target of the McCarty bill largely because of claims the Virginia-based firm had manipulated attendance records and overstated student performance. The firm reached a $168 million settlement with the state in 2016 over reporting irregularities.
But some parents have in the past defended K12 Inc. because of its leadership in bringing virtual schooling to families with children who find mainstream options unworkable.
Not to be confused with other forms of online learning, virtual schools deliver K-12 curriculum via the web where the student and the teacher don’t share either the same time space or physical location.
Although the number of students utilizing virtual schooling has grown in recent years, far more school districts are using the ‘blended learning’ model, where students come to the traditional classroom but spend part of the day participating in curriculum delivered online.
Most of the virtual schools in California are charters, authorized by a local school district and funded through state and local taxes. Most enrolled students are technically pursuing independent study, which requires the student and their parents to enter into a contract with the managing teacher over what work will be completed and when.
There is a variety of students attending virtual schools. Some have health issues that prevent them from attending a regular classroom. There are also high achieving individuals that need the flexibility online learning offers as they spend large amounts of their day in other activities—such as training and competing in international athletic events or, in some cases, working in Hollywood productions.
By far the largest number of students attending virtual schools are troubled teens unable to succeed in the traditional system. Virtual schools have in recent years served as a ‘last option’ to students that are often classified among the lowest-performers in public education.