published Friday, August 9th, 2013

Officials refuse to approve second virtual school in Tennessee

NASHVILLE – Efforts this year by the nation's largest for-profit online education company to open a second statewide virtual school under contract with Campbell County schools are a no-go with the state for now.

The Tennessee Cyber Academy, which publicly traded K12 Inc. has a contract with the system to operate, was scheduled to start today.

But state officials, who are still grappling with low first-year student performance at K12 Inc.'s controversial Tennessee Virtual School in Union County, recently refused to approve the latest venture last month.

In a July 30 letter to Campbell County school district officials, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman's office said the school system failed to provide key details officials need to assess its application for K12 Inc. to run its proposed school.

Instead, school officials in their application just checked off various boxes on a standard state form and attached a copy of what the state characterizes as a K12 Inc. company "brochure."

Unaddressed were issues like how the district would monitor attendance and enforce compulsory attendance laws, how many teachers there would be, the length of the school day and 12 other key factors.

That's not good enough, wrote Deputy Education Commissioner Kathleen Airhart in a letter to Campbell County's assistant director of schools, Larry Nidiffer.

"We remain concerned about your ability to successfully open and operate this school for the 2013-2014 school year," Airhart says in her letter. "Please note that until you have received approval, the proposed school is not eligible to receive public funds for enrolled students."

School Director Donnie Poston this week did not respond to repeated Times Free Press requests for an interview about the K12 Inc. contract, the state's refusal to approve the operation and how or if officials plan to proceed.

On its website, the system said two schools were to open this year under contract with K12 Inc. But there is considerable confusion about the details.

K12 Inc. spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said in an email Monday "there is not a completed services agreement with the county. We are still in contract discussions."

He said the school board awarded a request for proposal to K12 Inc. in June and voted to enter discussions. He said the district plans to launch their two new online schools next year.

But on the district's website, officials said they have already "partnered" with K12 Inc. to launch the grade K-8 Tennessee Cyber Academy and and the Tennessee Cyber Academy High School this school year.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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