States

Virginia Gov. Seeks to Require All Schools to Offer Full-Time Online Education

By Benjamin Herold — January 06, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed that all K-12 schools in the state offer students the option of a full-time virtual education.

If the plan is approved, Virginia would join Florida as the only states in the country with such a mandate, said John Watson, the CEO of the Evergreen Education Group, a consultancy that supports online education. Students in more than two-dozen other states have access to a full-time virtual program, but their districts are not required by law to offer such an option.

“One approach is not clearly better than another, although there is a fear that when you mandate that all districts offer an online school, there will be a race to the bottom as some seek the lowest-cost alternative,” Watson said.

Virginia education officials say Gov. McAuliffe’s proposal is designed to expand online options for students in the state, particularly those in rural areas. The plan calls for the creation of regional boards, comprised of local school board members, with the authority to offer their own virtual education programs or contract with private providers, other school districts, or other public entities who already offer such programs.

Building on existing options

Since 2002, the state department of education has run its own online program, called Virtual Virginia. It currently serves 200 students in a full-time pilot program and enrolls 12,551 students from across the state in individual online courses.

In addition, K12 Inc., the country’s largest private operator of full-time online schools, which is headquartered in Herndon, Va., has a contract with three Virginia school districts to run the Virginia Virtual Academy, a statewide K-8 online school. And the state education department has approved an additional 20 public districts and private companies to operate as “multidivision online providers,” eligible to offer online courses to students statewide.

But a continued push for more online options in Virginia has run into some resistance.

Last April, Gov. McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have created a new statewide full-time virtual school overseen by a newly created state board. Teacher unions and public-education advocates opposed the bill because it would have directed funding away from traditional public schools, and McAuliffe cited concerns about moving the responsibility for oversight away from local school systems.

In the wake of the veto, a working group on virtual education was convened. The new proposal is the result of that group’s efforts. Districts would have the option of contracting with existing entities, including the state-run Virtual Virginia program, to fulfill the new mandate.

“Control remains local, but there would be expanded access,” said Holly Coy, a state deputy education secretary, in an interview.

Questions about performance and accountability

Over the past 18 months, full-time online charter schools have come under increased scrutiny from researchers, advocates, and journalists.

An Education Week investigation of the cyber charter industry, for example, documented widespread evidence of poor performance and questionable management practices throughout the sector.

Despite such troubles, states and districts have increasingly moved to create their own full-time online options. Not much systematic research of these schools’ effectiveness—or even enrollment—is currently available.

According to Watson of Evergreen Education, about 350,000 students in more than 25 states are currently enrolled in full-time statewide online schools (including both charters and district- and state-run programs.) An unknown number of additional students are enrolled in full-time online programs offered locally by their district or other education agency.

“There’s enough evidence that the schools work when they’re well-managed that it makes sense for opportunities to be expanded,” Watson said. “But it also makes sense for that to be done thoughtfully, so as to ensure that there are good accountability measures in place.”

That could prove tricky when adding a new mandate and a new layer of regional oversight onto Virginia’s already-messy virtual schooling landscape.

The details of McAuliffe’s proposal still need to be fleshed out—and to survive the state’s legislative process.

But Coy, the state deputy education secretary, said the new proposal would address such concerns in part by ensuring that students enrolled in full-time virtual programs would still have to take state tests, and their scores would count towards their home school systems.

“The idea is that even though they would be a full-time virtual student, they would enroll in their local public school and maintain a connection to those schools,” she said. “We think that’s part of accountability.”

The devil, said Watson, is invariably in the details. If only a handful of students in a given district enroll in a full-time online program, will their home districts have enough incentive to feel responsible for their performance? Will those districts be required to report separately on the performance of their online students? With a multitude of providers, presumably using a multitude of technology platforms, will it be possible for state regulators and researchers to take a meaningful statewide look at how full-time online students are doing?

“Generally speaking, the idea that Virginia is joining other states in creating more opportunities for students around digital learning is a good thing,” he said.

“Whether this particular approach is good or bad probably remains to be seen.”

Photo: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe addresses the media during a news conference last month in Richmond. -- Steve Helber/AP


See also:


for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States During Site Visit From Cardona, Illinois Governor Defends Vaccine, Testing Policies
“The testing regimen is there in order to make sure that they’re not entering the institution where they work and spreading COVID-19.”
Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune
3 min read
The Student Council lead the creation of “sensory hallways” at Western Branch Middle School in Chesapeake, Va.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona looks on as Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks with reporters after touring Access Hawthorne Family Health Center, which is offering COVID-19 vaccines at 3040 S. Cicero Ave. in Cicero, as part of the Department of Education's "Return to School Road Trip" events in the Chicago area, Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 21, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
States Kentucky Ends All Statewide Mask Mandates After Governor's Vetoes Overridden
The Republican-led legislation strips the Democratic governor's ability to issue statewide mask mandates in schools or anywhere else.
Jack Brammer and Alex Acquisto, Lexington Herald-Leader
4 min read
In this Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky's governor said Sunday, Oct. 11, that he will quarantine after a member of his security detail who drove with his family the day before later tested positive for COVID-19. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he and his family feel fine, show no coronavirus symptoms and have tested negative for the virus.
In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky.
Timothy D. Easley/AP
States Bill to Restrict How Race and Racism Is Taught in Schools Headed to Texas Governor
If the "critical race theory" bill sounds familiar, that's because lawmakers passed a similar one during the regular legislative session.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
4 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Eric Gay/AP
States Infographic Which States Are Reporting COVID-19 Cases in Schools?
Some states are reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in their schools and districts. Use this table to find your state's data.
Image shows the coronavirus along with data charts and numbers.
iStock/Getty Images Plus