Virtual Public Charter Schools and Education Policy

Online learning can provide educational opportunities for children in need of better options; however, well-documented academic and management related problems continue to plague virtual charter schools. As a result, it is critical for states with virtual charter schools to adopt education policies that ensure this unique model is serving children well.

Six State-level Education Policies

NACSA recommends six state-level education policies that preserve the benefits families find in virtual public charter schools while making sure kids are getting a quality education. Most importantly, policymakers should create funding and oversight based on how well virtual schools are serving students and what it costs to run them.

Additionally, authorizers have a legal and moral responsibility to families and taxpayers to close chronically low-performing charter schools of any kind, including virtual charter schools. Authorizers can and should take the necessary steps to close such schools without any changes to state law.

1. Authorization

Only authorizers that have been granted statewide or regional chartering authority should be able to oversee full-time virtual charter schools that enroll students from more than one district.

If districts are permitted to authorize, these full-time virtual charter schools should only be permitted to enroll students from within the authorizing district.

2. Enrollment Access

Policymakers should ensure that approval and renewal of charter contracts for full time virtual charter schools requires the charter school to demonstrate and implement plans and accommodations ensuring fair and equal access to all students.

3. Enrollment Levels

State education policy should require public charter school authorizers and schools to establish a maximum number of students to be enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools for each year of a charter school contract, not to exceed a certain number of students per school in any given year, and allow schools to grow–or prevents them from growing–based on performance.

4. Accountability for Performance

In addition to the rigorous goals that should be a part of every public charter school contract, state education policy should require authorizers and schools to jointly determine goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, attrition, finances and operations, and include these goals in the schools’ charter contracts. Authorizers should then make renewal and closure decisions based upon schools’ progress against these goals, closing chronically low-performing full-time virtual charter schools.

5. Funding Levels Based on Costs

States should further research appropriate funding levels for full-time virtual charter schools based on the real costs of educating students in a virtual environment. States should also be required to seek guidance from experts and researchers in determining responsible levels of funding based on the real costs of full-time virtual charter schools.

6. Performance-Based Funding

States should explore options to fund full-time virtual charter schools based on some measures of performance, such as course mastery or completion. This funding formula should also include allocations based on the actual cost of operating full-time virtual charter schools.

Improving the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Public Charter Schools
Learn about the need for virtual charter school accountability and reform. Read our full paper produced with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and 50CAN.
Virtual Public Charter School Accountability
Access resources on how authorizers can keep virtual charter schools accountable for students to benefit from full-time online education and what we can do now to make a difference.
State Education Policy Resources
Effective state charter school policy must be part of the solution to address our public education system’s greatest problem: too many children lack access to a transformative school.