North Carolina Strives To Extend and Increase Low-Performing Virtual Charter Schools

Brick-and-mortar charter schools are notorious for being low-performing schools, even though they often cherry-pick their students to get the “best test results.” Poor academic performance is one of the three main reasons charter schools, which are privately-operated, close every week, leaving many parents, students, and teachers high and dry. Mismanagement and financial malfeasance are the other two key reasons charter schools close every few days. All three usually occur together. Not surprisingly, such chaos and anarchy leave a bad taste in the mouths of many.

But virtual charter schools, also known as cyber charter schools, perform even worse than their brick-and-mortar charter school counterparts (see below). Indeed, virtual charter schools across the country have consistently abysmal academic results. They have developed quite the name for this disreputable profile. But some in North Carolina want to expand this failed neoliberal education model.

House Bill 149, which was recently passed by the full House of the North Carolina legislature:

would authorize charter schools to provide remote instruction to students when approved to include a remote charter academy. HB 149 would also provide a one-year extension to the expiring virtual charter school pilot and provide enrollment growth and funding in the same manner as other charter schools for the remainder of the pilot.

This is odd because:

The state’s two virtual charters have been low-performing since they began in 2015. Some lawmakers in a House education committee questioned why a bill under consideration would allow it to continue as a pilot for another year.

Indeed, the state’s two cyber charter schools “have consistently been designated by the state as low-performing schools” (emphasis added). Representative Julie von Haefen stated, “I really don’t understand why we are continuing to extend this pilot program. Since 2016, these schools have received D ratings and have not met growth standards. I really don’t understand that. Can you explain that?”

All of this makes even less sense when considering that, overall, seventy percent of North Carolina’s charter schools earned a “C” or lower recently. Nationally, 5,000 charter schools have failed and closed over the past 31 years—a very high number considering that there are only about 7,500 charter schools in the U.S. in 2023.

House Bill 149 now goes to the Senate, where it may not pass. If it does pass, HB 149 would go into effect in the 2023-2024 school year. The legislative history and status of the bill can be found here.

Besides being poor-performing schools, virtual charter schools are also typically even more scandalous and corrupt than brick-and-mortar charter schools. A long list of such scandals (along with the chronically-weak academic performance of cyber charter schools) can be found by searching the Diane Ravitch blog and many other sites.

The move from brick-and-mortar charter schools to more virtual charter schools in recent years is a textbook example of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. It is a way of going from bad to worse, which is why many owners and operators of brick-and-mortar charter schools have expressed strong displeasure with the “virtual charter school folks.” The “virtual charter school folks” are giving a tarnished and problem-filled sector even more trouble, controversy, and scandal.

It is important to remember that charter schools are “free market” schools that see parents and students as customers, consumers, and shoppers. Parents and students are not viewed as humans and citizens who have a right to a world-class education guaranteed in practice by a government that rests on real public power. In the chaotic world of charter schools, everyone has to fend for themselves like an animal as they compete against others for a “good education.” The “free market,” the law of the jungle, and social Darwinism are all at play here, along with a big dose of the ideology of individualism. “Buyer Beware” is the only protection parents and students have in this outmoded setup, and even then they are regularly betrayed. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to charter schools.

North Carolina has had a charter school law since 1996. Currently, more than 130,000 students are enrolled in 204 deregulated charter schools in North Carolina. The state currently funnels nearly one billion dollars from public schools to these outsourced schools operated by unelected private persons.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.