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No North Carolina Taxpayer Dollars for Virtual Charter School

Digital Vision/ThinkStock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- The North Carolina Virtual Academy, a charter school that plans to enroll students from kindergarten through 10th grade, was back in court Friday, fighting school boards across the state for its right to receive taxpayer dollars.

But a judge ruled Friday afternoon that the State Board of Education was not obligated to review the online school's application, according to Lynda Fuller, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

N.C. Learns, a nonprofit group, applied for a charter to open North Carolina Virtual Academy in November. Students could enroll in the online school beginning in August 2012 had the charter been approved.

Students would attend the school online, using education software from K12, an online curriculum company.

"This would be the first full-time online school in the state that offers a diploma," said Joel Medley, director for the North Carolina Office of Charter Schools.

Despite the state board's decision to not consider online charter school applications, an administrative judge ruled the virtual school's application should have been approved in May 2011.

The case was appealed by the North Carolina State Board of Education, 89 of the state's 115 public school boards and the North Carolina School Boards Association in Wake County Superior Court.

"The judge stated the Office of Administrative Hearings had no right to grant N.C. Learns a charter," Fuller said. "The board has the planning authority to determine whether, how and when to approve charter applications."

The judge also ruled that the North Carolina State Board of Education had the authority to determine which charters it will review for approval.

As to whether or not N.C. Learns will appeal remains to be seen, Fuller said.

According to Medley, North Carolina had a 15-year-old, legislatively imposed 100-school cap on state charter schools that was lifted in August 2011.

N.C. Learns submitted an application for the online school's charter to the Cabarrus County Board of Education in November 2011. It projected enrollment at just over 2,700 students in its first year.

According to Jeff Kwitowski, senior vice president of public affairs at K12, N.C. Learns planned to collaborate with that district. In return, Cabarrus County schools would receive funding for its oversight.

But the final decision on the virtual school rested in the hands of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

"After the cap was lifted, the state board went out and stated that they would not entertain virtual charter schools," Medley said.

"But they submitted to a school district, got approved, then forwarded it along to the state board," he said. "The state board said absolutely not, we've already said no, no means no."

Leanne Winner, head lobbyist for the North Carolina School Boards Association said charter schools in North Carolina receive state and local proportional funding for each child from their respective school district.

While the cost varies across school districts, she said that the average cost is almost $7,000 per child.

"With this school, every course would be virtual, and the child would never go to a brick and mortar building," Winner said. "[North Carolina Virtual Academy] would receive taxpayer dollars for these students."

North Carolina has a state-approved virtual public school, but it's not stand alone -- meaning it does not replace attending a traditional school. Instead, it offers students the opportunity to take courses online that are not offered in their district, and helps students who are bedridden to graduate on time.

It does not give diplomas.

"With North Carolina Virtual Public Schools, school districts sign children up for courses, but there are very few enrolled. It's not available for elementary school children," Winner said.

Kwitowski said that K12 is by 2,000 school districts across the country for their state online programs.

"We have a full curriculum in grades K-12 in all of the core subjects," he said. "Students get their own program, access to their own accounts, and their own lessons. Books, music supplies, and art supplies are also delivered to that child," he said.

Kwitowski said that with K12 curriculum, the younger students enrolled are, the less time they spend online. But parents have to invest more time in monitoring their children throughout the earlier years of schooling.  

"Younger grades have much more offline material, where parents act as learning coaches in the same way that in a kindergarten class, there is a lead teacher, and teacher assistants," he said. "There's a misperception that students are in front of their computer the whole time."

Relative to the statewide population of students, less than .2 percent of the total population would be enrolling in North Carolina Virtual Academy.

Currently, the academy does not have any teachers employed because it has not been approved to open.

"The N.C. Learns Board is disappointed by today's ruling. It is a sad day for parents and children in North Carolina who need this public school option," said Chris Withrow, chairman of N.C. Learns.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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