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Online School Debate

North Carolina's new state budget calls for establishing two virtual charter schools one year from now. However, this mandate comes with debate about their effectiveness.

Haywood County school leaders say there's a place for online classes, but nothing comes close to the quality of a traditional school. They say in fairness to virtual public school, the quality won't be known until they're up and running for a while.  But they do have concerns.

"And I worry about what do we do with those students who come back to us and it hasn't been successful and they're behind," say Associate Haywood County Schools Superintendent Bill Nolte.

North Carolina Connections Academy is applying to run one of two virtual schools required by the General Assembly. Its president is aware of concerns about funding virtual schools versus brick-and-mortar schools, and about claims of high student-to-teacher ratios in online classes.

But Bryan Setser says at 37 to 1, his ratios are consistent with traditional schools, and says virtual schools in North Carolina offer a tremendous opportunity.

"Any time something is new people are going to point to places that it's not worked out. But I like to think that there's tremendous opportunity here for it to work out," he says.

Leanne Winner with the North Carolina School Boards Association says there have been problems with online charter schools in other states.

"Tennessee recently announced that it would be closing its virtual charter school next school year after three years of poor student performance," Winner said.

Winner says homeschoolers are not accounted for in state and local funding formulas and therefore could negatively impact amounts spent on all students.

Setser says there is a full year to work out planning, no different he argues for a brick and mortar school.

"We'll find out in the long run whether or not it works," says Nolte.

By Rex Hodge
Follow Rex on Twitter @RexHodgeWLOS


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