State Board of Education Continues to Look at Virtual Charter School Issue
By Olivia Wolcott and Christina Martin
At its May 21 meeting, the Oregon State Board of Education discussed the issue of virtual charter schools, specifically Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA), after hearing testimony from ORVA parents. The Board will continue its discussion on Thursday, June 24, when they will accept further public testimony and review proposals to address the issues raised in the May 21st meeting.
Click Continue Reading to view the Board’s Response
A serious issue facing parents who have chosen Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA), a virtual (online) public school, for their children is the difficulty of gaining a release form from the local school district before their child can enroll in the virtual school. Parents testified before the Oregon Board of Education on May 21, 2010 about the stress, uncertainty and disappointment experienced by their families while their children’s educational future was frozen in limbo by local districts delaying or denying permission for reenrollment in the virtual charter school. Parents must reapply for the release form every year they choose to keep their children in ORVA. Districts have denied reenrollment even after a child who struggled in a more traditional “brick-and-mortar” school has thrived for a year or more in the virtual school setting. This situation becomes especially problematic for families who have moved to a home within the physical boundaries of a new school district, which may or may not choose to release the child regardless of the decision of the previous district and the disruption in the child’s life that this causes.
The Oregon State Board of Education, in their May 21 meeting, informally discussed its purpose in requiring students to get a district release to attend ORVA. Board members said it was intended to be a one-time approval that would release the child to the virtual school permanently unless the district had an explicit concern regarding the child’s wellbeing. Cindy Hunt, a lawyer for the Oregon Department of Education, informed the Board that their ability to change the status of ORVA’s release waiver had been frozen by the Oregon legislature until July 1, 2011, also stating that the district with the authority to grant the release is implied to possess the authority to revoke that release when it saw fit. She recommended that the Board informally contact those districts not granting approval in order to understand their concerns. Some Board members urged immediate action to help families whose reenrollment status is currently frozen. However, others agreed with Ms. Hunt and expressed concern that the brick-and-mortar schools would suffer from the loss of funding that virtual charter school students would cause by leaving those public schools. The chairman concluded the meeting by urging the Board members to pursue “informal problem solving” by looking into the districts’ concerns and asked that they bring their findings to the next meeting for further discussion. He also stated that virtual charter schools could become a more front-and-center issue in Oregon’s education policy in the next 5 to 7 years.
Oliva Wolcott is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
Christina Martin is Director of the Asset Ownership Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.