Louisiana Connections Academy in Baton Rouge is to have its maximum enrollment cap of 500 doubled to 1,000 for the 2012-2013 school year. This is up from the previous planned increase to 750. The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has already approved the plan at committee stage and final approval is expected to be granted at Friday’s meeting of the full panel.
The doubled enrollment cap is in response to 4,221 applications for the current school year.
“Students would have to go to a low-performing school if we did not expand it,” state Superintendent of Education John White said.
The increase is far from unanimous however with some members of the board wanting clarification on the academic benefits of online charter schools (Connections Academy is one of only two in the state) before proceeding.
“I don’t want to allow expansion until we can get some data,” said Lottie Beebe, a BESE member from Breaux Bridge.
“I don’t want us to move too fast and open the floodgates,” Beebe said.
Testimony from some pleased parents indicates that the flexible style of learning is a boon for parents in non-traditional work as the virtual classroom doesn’t rely on the physical proximity of the child. Parents who have to travel for work no longer have to leave their child behind.
School officials note that 66% of their enrollment consists of ‘at risk’ students for whom traditional schools are an unsatisfactory option.
Wayne Free, assistant executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, asked the committee to delay action until virtual charter schools are studied more.
Free said research shows virtual school students do not perform as well as those in brick-and-mortar charter schools.
He said there have been problems in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, California and Wisconsin.
However, academic performance figures will not be complete until after enrollment for the next school year and proponents of the schools are keen to expand in advance of anticipated encouraging early results, rather than leave more children than necessary without the benefit of online education.
BESE member Chas Roemer also backed the expansion.
“The fact that 4,200 parents chose this program, that is a powerful number,” Roemer said.
“We would still be leaving 3,000 parents without this option,” he said of the higher capacity.