Will Tennessee Continue Allowing Virtual Schools To Operate Statewide?

K-12 students end up getting most of their instruction online, though the youngest grades spend less time in front of a computer. Credit: K-12 via Facebook

K-12 students end up getting most of their instruction online, though the youngest grades spend less time in front of a computer. Credit: K-12 via Facebook

This year, Tennessee lawmakers must decide whether or not to stay in the statewide cyber school business. The legislative act that paved the way for the troubled Tennessee Virtual Academy needs to be renewed.

For-profit virtual school operator K12 Inc. needed state law changed in order to pull students from all 95 counties. House Education Committee chairman Harry Brooks sponsored the bill in 2011.

Since then, Tennessee Virtual Academy has enrolled thousands of students and posted such bad scores that it’s on the brink of forced closure. But Brooks points to other smaller virtual schools performing well, and some have students from outside the typical geographic boundaries. Shelby County, which has 150 students, has opened enrollment statewide.

“My argument would be do you want to continue what Memphis is doing?” Brooks asks. “You have other virtual academies that have students from within their district and from outside their district.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), who is a member of the House Education Committee, says he would “hate to just wipe them all off.”

“But we’ve got to do something about this Tennessee Virtual Academy,” he says. “What a mess.”

Pitts says there’s nothing wrong with virtual education. But the legislature should consider adding oversight before extending the law another four years. He suggests enrollment caps and allowing the state to intervene after one year of poor test results instead of two.

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