The Utah Board of Education voted Friday to approve a virtual charter school for students in grades K-12. The school, Utah Virtual Academy, will serve up to 500 students by letting them take classes on computers at home. Nearby teachers will occasionally meet with students and guide them through their lessons online, said Mary Gifford, regional vice president of K12 Inc., which will manage the school she said could open as early as next fall. The school will be free to Utah students.
Gifford said the school is ideal for students with serious illnesses or busy schedules, or for those who just want to get away from a traditional school environment. The state already has a virtual high school.
Although the board approved the school Friday, several board members said they were torn. Others voted the school down outright, saying it was not an efficient use of taxpayer money.
Some were concerned that K12 Inc. wants 24 percent of the school's revenue to go toward administrative and technology services, a higher percentage than most other charter-school management companies demand, according to the state. Also, Superintendent Patti Harrington said the state is likely to open its own K-8 virtual school, leading some board members to wonder why the state should approve the more expensive Utah Virtual Academy.
My preference would be to wait and let our state office come through with their K-8 [virtual school], and I think that would mitigate the need for this, said Janet Cannon, board vice chairman. I don't know this is a wise use of public funds.
Other board members felt the state should take the opportunity to work with K12, which they said offers a reputable curriculum and another choice for students. Board member Mark Cluff of Alpine said the academy will be great for low-income and special-education students because it will supply students with computers and other equipment at no cost. Board member Bill Colbert said he likes how the academy will train children and families to be computer-literate.
The virtual academy will be audited annually by the state.