Virtual charter schools targeted
Amid the growth of state “virtual” charter schools, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is calling for legislation to strengthen academic and financial standards for such entities.
While a proponent of charter schools, Barresi said the relatively new phenomenon of virtual charters needs to be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency that are applicable to other charters in the public school system.
“Oklahoma’s public schools predate statehood, while virtual charter schools have been around for but a handful of years,” she said.
“It is vital to ensure these schools are held to the same standards as their brick-and-mortar counterparts so their students can receive a high-quality education. Technological advances continue to quickly change the face of education.
“That holds great potential, but we must ensure that all of our children receive excellent education. To do this, we need to encourage our schools, including virtual charters, to be transparent and accountable to the people of Oklahoma. ”
Barresi already has spoken with several legislators about sponsoring such a bill when the Oklahoma State Legislature convenes in February.
Among the key items that Barresi said would need to be addressed:
- Ensuring that existing virtual charters renegotiate their state contracts in July 2014, when they will fall under the purview of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board
- Clarifying how student attendance is measured
- Ensuring virtual charters do not receive certain elements of state aid that would be inappropriate (i.e. student transportation)
- Determining how economically disadvantaged students are identified
- Guaranteeing financial transparency
Twenty-five charter schools currently operate in Oklahoma, two of which are virtual schools. Three other virtual schools have applications pending before the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.
“Virtual charters point to some innovative possibilities in public education as the result of improved communications, but such changes come with challenges,” the superintendent said. “Accountability, transparency and rigor remain crucial cornerstones to a high-quality education – cornerstones that would be protected through this type of legislation.”