Iowa Virtual Academy is gaining interest & raising concerns among lawmakers

Posted: February 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm

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This weekend, a national online education company, K12 Inc., is pitching its services to Iowa families.

At an informational meeting in Cedar Rapids Saturday morning, parents Justin and Brenda Opperman are preparing for a big step in their oldest child's life -- kindergarten. The couple believes online learning may be the right option.

"The idea of learning at our own pace is pretty appealing -- to be able to work that in with our family schedule," said Justin Opperman.

K12 Inc is launching Iowa Virtual Academy in the fall. The K-6 school is based out of the Clayton Ridge Community School District in Guttenberg, but kids across the state can enroll full time in the program -- without ever setting foot in a classroom.

"We see kids who were struggling in a traditional classroom and they need the one-on-one instruction which the program would provide for them. Because it's tailor-made for each individual student. We've also seen the advanced learner who is moving ahead more quickly than the traditional class is going," said Rachel Hagan.

The brick and mortar school works for most kids. Iowa Virtual Academy is aimed at providing the same education standards, but allowing children to learn at their own pace. What concerns some lawmakers is regulating the program. The average Iowa school receives $5,883 per pupil funding. They use that money for playgrounds, teacher salaries, and supplies. The overhead cost to operate an online school is much less.

"We don't know how much it should cost. There's an amendment filed to bring it down to the same weighting as a home schooled assisted person. But at the same time, we're not sure that's what it costs. We don't want to underprice them so that we run K-12 out, so they don't have an option in our state," said Representative Renee Schulte, (R) Cedar Rapids.

K12 Inc. is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Last year, the company grossed $209.12 million. 85 percent of that revenue is generated by K12 Inc.'s online public schools. Meaning -- public tax dollars.

"Attorneys general office has been pulled into this to determine if what's happening is even legal," Schulte said.

There's another question lawmakers would like to see answered -- how effective is online-only learning.

"The idea that you're going to turn schools over to the Internet.. that's a bad idea. Kids need contact with people. Teachers, coaches," said Senator Rob Hogg, (D) Cedar Rapids

But some believe it's a good idea -- in fact, K12 has more than 100,000 students in 29 states.

Even if they decide to go a more traditional route, the Opperman family is grateful to have the online option.

"Might as well start out on the right foot -- start out with the best options," Justin said.

Schulte said the House is considering putting a hold on allowing the online-only schools until they can determine how to regulate and fund the programs.

Clayton Ridge Community School District worked closely with the Iowa Department of Education to develop the program with K12 Inc. Anyone interested in the online-based school must first apply for open enrollment before March 1, 2012.

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Iowa Virtual Academy is gaining interest & raising concerns among lawmakers

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February 19th, 2012 at 10:02 pm

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