State names second virtual charter school

The Indiana Department of Education announced today it has tapped a western Indiana charter school to create the second publicly supported online school in the state.

Rural Community Academy in Sullivan, south of Terre Haute, can enroll as many as 280 students in grades 1-8 for the 2010-11 academic year. Those students would do most of their work from home, accessing lectures and school materials via the Internet.

As a charter school, Rural Community will receive state funds for each student it enrolls.

The state’s only existing online charter school, the Hoosier Academy Virtual Pilot School, started last fall. It is operated by Hoosier Academies, which also runs two brick-and-mortar charter schools in Indianapolis and Muncie.

The virtual Hoosier Academy can enroll as many as 220 students in grades 1-6.

Virtual charter schools have been controversial in Indiana. In 2007, two virtual charter schools started signing up students, but then the Indiana State Teachers Association and many legislators objected. They questioned the quality of online education and said it was unclear whether virtual charter schools should receive as much per-student funding as other state-supported schools do.

In 2009, the legislature approved a two-year pilot program for virtual charters, promising to pay 80 percent of tuition for as many as 500 students.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, has been a vocal proponent of virtual charter schools.

”Parents must have the freedom to choose academically rigorous learning opportunities tailored to meet the needs of their children,” he said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “The virtual charter school program is part of an effort by the Indiana Department of Education to offer instructional options to students who may be previously underserved by the traditional education community.”


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