After 10 years of under-performing graduation rates, state lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would require more accountability and regulations for virtual charter schools.

If House Bill 1172 is signed into law, it would require virtual charters to be overseen by statewide authorizers, such as Ball State, and other outlines for online education programs, the bill states.

In the past, virtual charters have been overseen by traditional school communities like Daleville Community Schools, which authorized a school that graduated just 2.2 percent of its students in the 2017-18 school year, according to the state’s Department of Education website.

Daleville Community Schools Superintendent Paul Garrison testified his support of the legislation at the bill’s committee hearing Jan. 16.

“There is indeed a need to provide regulation of virtual education programs beyond that which we’ve been able to provide as an authorizer to help ensure the best educational practice for the benefit of the school and students,” Garrison said.

The bill, authored by Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis), would also require annual onboarding and orientation for all virtual education students in an effort to get students and their parents more involved and aware of what needs to be done to succeed in a virtual course.

Melissa Brown, executive director of Indiana Connections Academy (ICA), says the family’s involvement is vital to a student’s success in a virtual course.

“There’s not much we can do if a parent or family does not engage in that process,” Brown said. “Our school offers a rigorous academic program that requires self-direction, persistence and family support.”

ICA, which is authorized by Ball State, has the highest graduation rate of any virtual charter in the state, but that number is still close to half of the average at public schools. All virtual charter school’s graduation rates ranked in the bottom 8 percent of all schools in Indiana according to data published by the state’s Board of Education.

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), a co-author of the bill who has taught at Indiana University Northwest for 26 years, said that he would try to add more ordinances in the bill, and he did propose three amendments that were all passed unanimously Jan. 31.

The bill now would require all virtual education students to have the same attendance requirements in regards to truancy as traditional students.

In addition, a Smith amendment also closed a loophole that allowed students from outside of the state to enroll in virtual education classes, a measure kickstarted by Randolph County Superintendent Donnie Bowsman, who testified in support for more regulations for virtual education.

Smith was adamant during the bill debate that measures needed to be taken to ensure virtual education wasn’t being taken advantage of.

“They’re going to a school called ‘Burger King’ where they think they can have it their way,” Smith said in regards to some students who try to take advantage of the flexibility present in virtual education.

The bill passed through the House Feb. 5 and was sent to the Senate the day after, where it will be further debated and possibly amended in the coming weeks.

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