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State Board Continues Debating Virtual Charter School Enrollment Cap

Olivia Wolcott

 

Cascade Commentary

 

Two of Cascade’s research associates, Olivia Wolcott and Rebecca Steele, advocated fewer regulations and a more open enrollment rule for virtual charter schools, as part of an hour of public testimony heard by the board at the June 24 meeting.

State Board Continues Debating Virtual Charter School Enrollment Cap

by Olivia Wolcott and Christina Martin

On June 24, the Oregon State Board of Education met to further discuss agenda items including the issue of virtual charter schools. Virtual charter schools have been on the Board’s agenda since the legislature passed House Bill 3660 in February 2010. HB 3660 instructed the State Board of Education to “develop a proposed governance model for virtual public schools, including virtual public charter schools,” and “review the appropriate levels and methods of funding for virtual public schools, including virtual public charter schools” (HB 3660, Section 9.2). A work group met May 27 and prepared a “straw proposal” that the entire Board examined during the June 24 meeting.

One focus of the discussion was whether virtual charter schools should have permanent regulatory caps on their enrollment. This issue has been at the forefront of the virtual charter school debate from the beginning, since both teachers unions and the local school districts want to limit virtual school enrollment numbers through regulatory caps to prevent a “mass exodus” of students from traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Local districts want to retain the state funding that accompanies each student (of which 80-95% transfers to the charter school with the student). The teachers union has proposed various reforms that would end virtual charter schools, as they currently exist, to protect union interests. The pressure put on the State Board from these concerns is reflected in the May 27 work group “straw proposal,” which would set an enrollment cap of 5% on students transferring to a virtual charter school from a single district.

The enrollment cap debate has begged the question of why students and their parents want an option other than their local public schools. Rather than addressing the failure of some traditional schools to meet the needs of many students, however, some State Board members indicated that they would rather protect district enrollment, claiming that losing just a handful of students in a small district could cause problems for that district (such as teacher and program cuts resulting from a loss of funding). Sadly, this approach would prevent the improvement of both local and charter schools through competition to retain students. A number of studies have shown that competition resulting from school choice actually improves education across the board. Accordingly, rather than protecting public schools’ enrollment, the State Board could foster improvements in the state’s traditional public schools by encouraging competition.

The Board did not vote on the issue in their June 24 meeting, putting off their ultimate decision until their August “executive retreat,” at which time they plan to finalize the regulations they will submit to the legislature, due in September, per the HB 3660 instructions.

The Foundation for Educational Choice, “Does school choice make public schools better?”
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “Study Reveals Positive Effect of Charter School Competition
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, “Benefits of Charters for Massachusetts Schools Districts: Benefits of Competition”

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