In the wake of the renewed K12 dust-up, Andy Sher over at the Times Free Press has another good article out this morning highlighting a new bill put forward by the Haslam Administration to cap online school enrollment. By the way, let it be known that the Times Free Press (and Andy Sher) have had consistently excellent coverage of this issue over the past year. Whether it’s because Chattanooga native (and almost certainly next Mayor) Andy Berke started the anti-virtual schools crusade (and then homed in on* K12 as its dismal performance became public), or because K12’s Tennessee “home” is in Union County, just a ways down the road from Chattanooga, who knows.
Here’s the important point to take from Sher’s article today:
Haslam’s legislation would apply to the Tennessee Virtual Academy and any other online schools that come down the path. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is carrying the administration’s package of bills, said Tuesday he had not been fully briefed on the measure.
Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said in an email, “This bill is meant to enhance the accountability for virtual schools, and to base their future growth on demonstrated performance.
“This is not about K12; this is a matter of learning from the first year of implementation of the Virtual Schools Act and making improvements with a focus on student achievement,” she said.
The bill restricts new operators of online schools to no more than 1,500 students. After students demonstrate they are indeed learning through state achievement tests, they can enroll no more than 5,000. That cap also applies to K12 Inc.’s operation, Gauthier confirmed.
Another provision in the bill restricts a county online school’s ability to accept students from outside the local district.
That initially would not apply to K12 Inc.’s current student population in Union County. But Gauthier confirmed that in the future it would apply to new students.
That’s right. K12 is not on its own here. Aside from the prospect of future virtual schools, there is already at least one other virtual school operating in Tennessee. Did you know that Metro Nashville Public Schools has its own virtual school? It’s true!
For all of the protesting by the spokeswoman for Commissioner Huffman, this most certainly is about K12 and the Tennessee Virtual Academy. What the response signals, however, is that the current legislature (and Governor and Commissioner) appear to be unwilling to backtrack on virtual schools entirely, as many K12 critics would like. Instead, the measure put forward would be a compromise, while still preserving the opportunity for growth in Tennessee of (1) virtual schools and (2) for-profit school operators.**
*It is unclear whether the correct usage is “home in on” or “hone in on.” I have used the former, because it appears to make more sense grammatically.
**The New York Times did an extensive piece on for-profit online school operators in 2011.