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Raise Your Hand Texas Releases "Full Time Virtual Schools in Texas: Good for Kids or Merely Good for Profit?"

Policy Paper Highlights Rapid Expansion, Poor Accountability of Full-Time Virtual Schools

AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Today, Raise Your Hand Texas, a non-profit education advocacy organization working to strengthen schools on behalf of Texas students and families, released a policy paper entitled, “Full-Time Virtual Schools in Texas: Good for Kids or Merely Good for Profit?”

Few citizens are aware of the rapid growth of full-time virtual schools in Texas, or perhaps are not even aware that such schools exist. Yet students around the state from as young as 3rd grade through high school receive all of their course content online, never setting foot in a brick-and-mortar school. Private, for-profit providers deliver these courses under contract with school districts and charter schools using taxpayer funds.

The policy paper analyzes available research and data on full-time virtual schools in Texas, and makes policy recommendations to strengthen governance, accountability and financial transparency for this rapidly growing segment of Texas education.

“We feel that the legislature needs to hit the pause button on the growth of full-time virtual schools in Texas,” says Raise Your Hand Texas CEO Dr. David Anthony. “We need to close loopholes that allow poor-performing schools to evade consequences by moving to another “host” district or charter, and ensure that appropriate accountability, oversight and fiscal transparency are in place for the benefit of students and taxpayers.”

Rapid Growth, Poor Performance

While enrollment in full-time virtual schools in Texas represents a relatively small number of students overall, the rate of growth has been rapid with enrollment expanding from 171 students in 2006-2007 to 6,209 students in 2011-2012.

Consistent with national studies, Raise Your Hand Texas’ review of available research and data relating to full-time virtual schools in Texas has found that:

  • Full-time virtual education has expanded rapidly in Texas, despite weak performance in student achievement and under the state accountability system.
    • Only one full-time virtual school has maintained even an Academically Acceptable ranking for two consecutive years (and it was later rated Academically Unacceptable).
    • No full-time virtual school has ever achieved a rating of Exemplary or Recognized.
  • There is little or no transparency regarding contracts by private, for-profit providers with host districts or charters despite the use of taxpayer dollars, nor is there available public data on the cost of virtual education despite claims of significant cost efficiencies.

Recommendations to Strengthen Oversight, Close Loopholes

Based on its review of the available research and data, the policy paper released today by Raise Your Hand Texas contains a number of recommendations regarding policies that should be maintained or strengthened to ensure accountability and transparency for full-time virtual education before further expansion should be considered.

Key recommendations include:

Maintain:

  • Administrative and fiscal control of all virtual classes and schools should remain with the Texas Virtual Schools Network (TxVSN) at the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
  • Continue to require that virtual schools comply with the same reporting and accountability requirements as traditional public schools, that only public school students may enroll, and that funding be based on successful course completion.

Strengthen:

  • Close the loophole that allows for-profit private providers to evade consequences by moving to another “host” district or charter school one step ahead of the Commissioner of Education.
  • Require fiscal transparency for virtual schools, including requiring that contracts between private providers of virtual education and host districts or charters be public information that is available online.
  • Prevent further expansion of full-time virtual schools until an objective evaluation of the student performance and cost-effectiveness of full-time virtual schools is performed.

A copy of the policy paper, including a full list of policy recommendations, is available for download at: www.raiseyourhandtexas.org/images/virtual-schools.pdf.

About Raise Your Hand Texas

Raise Your Hand Texas is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots advocacy organization made up of community and business leaders, educators and taxpayers from around the state. Our mission is to advocate for students as we strive to improve Texas public schools, by investing in educational leaders and engaging the public to influence public policy that strengthens our schools and the economy of our state.

Follow us on Twitter: @RYHTexas

Connect with us on Facebook: facebook.com/RaiseYourHandTexas

Raise Your Hand Texas
Shannon Ratliff, 512-494-4081
sratliff@policydesign.com

Source: Raise Your Hand Texas