Hundreds of South Florida students are taking classes from Virginia-based K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online education company.
Now, the company hopes to establish charter schools across the state. They would not be traditional charter schools, but online schools. Their students would never set foot in a school building.
Public-school officials across Florida are asking, “Why?”
“I’m not sure what need it would fill,” said Judi Zanetti, chairwoman of the Marion County School Board.
Students in traditional schools, in charter schools and who are home-schooled can already take K12 classes in 42 Florida school districts, including about 300 students in Miami-Dade and many more in Broward.
K12 says online charter schools are one more way to customize students’ educations. It says its new schools would allow students to learn at their own pace and take classes on their own schedules.
School district officials and researchers worry that K12 might be trying to avoid scrutiny from local educators.
The importance of such oversight was highlighted by a Seminole County review of K12’s teachers.
The district said it found emails from K12 employees that suggested the company used teachers who were not properly certified and had asked teachers to help cover up that fact.
The Florida Department of Education is investigating K12.
Meanwhile, several county school districts have rejected K12’s charter school applications. Some have taken the company to court to keep the schools from opening.
The online charter school network, called the Florida Virtual Academy — not to be confused with the state-run Florida Virtual School — has applied to open in at least nine Florida school districts. Florida Virtual Academy at Osceola County opened earlier this year, the first school in the network to do so.
As with all charter schools, the Florida Virtual Academies would be overseen by a nonprofit board of directors. K12 would supply the teachers and curriculum.
K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said students and parents are seeking schools that work best for them.
“Our mission is to provide innovative education solutions for all public schools, and give families more options,” Kwitowski wrote in an email. “We have strong relationships with our public-school partners around the country and [are] proud to serve them.”
School districts have little say over charter schools once they have been approved, and can close a school only for poor performance, financial troubles or a violation of the school’s charter.
Florida school districts have repeatedly rejected Florida Virtual Academy applications. They cite what they call an outdated curriculum that does not meet new national standards and budgets that do not include plans to provide computers and Internet access to enough low-income students.
Earlier this year, Miami-Dade rejected three virtual charter applications that did not have a contract with a curriculum provider.
A spokesman for Mater Virtual Charter School, Mater Virtual Academy Charter Middle/High School and Somerset Virtual Academy Charter Middle/High, all managed by Academica, said in July that the schools had an unsigned contract with K12 and would reapply.
But in at least six cases, the Florida Board of Education has overruled districts and said the K12 charter schools should be approved.