Short version of article this morning in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the unanimous recommendation of a state Education Department panel to allow the Arkansas Virtual Academy, a “virtual charter school,” expand enrollment from 2,000 to 3,000 students:
A school that has been unable for months to provide a consistent and accurate enrollment count and which scores at virtually every grade below state averages got a vote to expand by 50 percent.
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The Little Rock School District, meanwhile, remains under state control and will remain so if devoted foes like state School Board members Diane Zook and Brett Williamson continue to hold sway.
Relevant background not included in morning story:
* State Education Commissioner Johnny Key (boss of charter panel employees) was the state senator who used the underhanded “special language” process to raise an initial cap on virtual charter enrollment from 500.
* The “Virtual Academy” gets more than $6,000 in state dollars per student ($6 million more per year under the latest change, if ratified by the state Board of Education) though it has no gyms, band rooms, cafeterias, bus systems or faculty commensurate with those of brick-and-mortar school districts. It functions as an adjunct, particularly in elementary grades, to parents’ home schooling.
* The “Virtual Academy” is an affiliate of K12, a private, profit-making corporation. Critics say it makes money off public dollars (thus straining conventional schools) without demonstrating much value. It disputes this, of course. According to its most recent financial report, the non-profit “Arkansas Virtual Academy” paid $7.8 million of its $10.7 million in annual state revenue to its “third-party management agent.” That would be, you guessed it, K12 of Herndon, Va. Read more here about K12 — fat pay to execs, poor academic performance, chummy associations with conservative politicians and the American Legislative Exchange Council — and you’ll see why they are such a good fit in Arkansas. Good luck penetrating how that money is spent by the way — K12 is beyond the reach of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.