K12 Inc Applies to Open Charter Schools in Florida

Although K12, Inc has mostly been welcomed into the Florida school system with open arms – the company already offers online classes accessible in more than 42 school districts across the state – their latest expansion plan is raising the eyebrows of many state education officials. In addition to being the operator of Florida’s Virtual Academies, NPR is reporting that the country’s largest online education company is hoping to be allowed to set up stand-alone, fully-online charter schools. While the plan hasn’t be rejected outright, it has some, like the chairwoman of the Marion County School board Judi Zanetti, asking “why?”

Specifically, Zanetti is wondering what currently-unmet need of Florida students the new charter schools would step in to fill. According to K12, the charters would provide more flexibility, but many are suspecting the company’s motives are more complex than that. Allowing the company to operate a charter would remove some levels of scrutiny of its performance, an accommodation that, in light of recent events, K12 might be eager to secure.

The importance of that oversight was highlighted by a Seminole County review of K12’s teachers.

The district found emails from K12 employees which suggested the company was using teachers who were not properly certified and asking teachers to help cover it up.

The Florida Department of Education is now investigating K12.

Several school districts have already rejected charter applications from K12, while several more have taken the next step and gone to court to prevent the company from opening up schools in their locations. So far the Florida Virtual Academy, the state-wide online school operated by K12, applied for permission to open charters in nine districts — and Osceola County began offering classes this fall. While the workings of the charter will be overseen by an independent board of directors, the curricula, materials and instruction will all be provided by K12.

Once approval of the charter is granted, the local district has almost no oversight of the school and can only close the school for major violations of the charter terms or for consistent under-performance.

Florida school districts have repeatedly rejected Florida Virtual Academy applications. They cite outdated curriculum which doesn’t meet new national standards and budgets which don’t include plans to provide computers and Internet access to enough low-income students.

But in at least six cases, the Florida Board of Education has overruled districts and said the K12 charter school should be approved.

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