Behning: This is how we addressed the problem with virtual schools

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Friday, August 2, 2019 11:37 am

Note to the editor: This Letter to the Editor is submitted by State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), chair of the House Education Committee, in response to the July 26 article, “This is how ‘we’ missed problem with virtual schools.”

A recent state audit found two virtual charter schools received funding to educate students, but failed to do just that. Like so many, I’m incredibly frustrated by this news.

The report comes after months of investigating these schools and determining more must be done to ensure students actually enrolled in virtual schools are receiving an education.

Virtual programs provide more than 13,000 students a flexible learning option that best meets their needs. Students with disabilities now have access to a more personalized education, while others who have unique health needs or experienced bullying can concentrate on their studies in a supportive environment. Because programs are online, students with hectic extra-curricular schedules can also complete their schoolwork anytime, anyplace.

Indiana is not so “smitten” with educational choice that we cannot identify and address issues within our schools, including egregious ones like this. In fact, both schools are set to close. The State Board of Education reduced their reported enrollment by 50% for the last three years – meaning they must repay the state nearly $40 million – and they will not receive future state funds.

It seems Representative DeLaney is more interested in throwing the baby out with the bathwater due to two bad actors than actually addressing the problem.  

There are already multiple safeguards in place to ensure every school – including virtuals – provides a quality education, and prevent similar failures in the future. Public charter schools and virtual schools already have more stringent accountability standards than traditional public schools.

Building on SBOE recommendations from 2018, a new law takes accountability a step further. Virtual charter schools must now be managed by a statewide authorizer, have onboarding policies to ensure families and students fully understand the school’s unique challenges and benefits, and also demonstrate students are engaged in the learning process. This will provide a more consistent and higher level of accountability that was lacking in the recently closed schools.   

Online schools will remain a staple of our education system. Like a traditional setting, virtual programs should provide quality education to all students. While others shift blame, I’ll continue working proactively in the best interest of Hoosier students.

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State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents House District 91,
which includes portions of Hendricks and Marion counties.

Click here to download a high-resolution photo.