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Commonwealth Virtual Schools

 

On January 3, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation authorizing the establishment of up to 10 Commonwealth Virtual Schools. The bill directs the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to draft regulations by October 1.  Proposals will likely be due on that date.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Teachers in virtual schools must be licensed in Massachusetts.
  • Proposals may be submitted by school districts, education collaboratives, colleges and universities, nonprofits, teachers or parents.
  • For-profit businesses or private and parochial schools may not apply.
  • Total number of virtual schools operating at one time is capped at 10.
  • Total number of students attending is capped at 2% of the state’s public school population, or approximately 19,000 students.
  • At least 5% of students enrolled must be from establishing school district.
  • Tuition paid by sending districts will use the school choice formula of $5,000 per student.

Up to three certificates will be awarded between 2013 to 2016. (The Massachusetts Virtual Academy in Greenfield [MAVA] may no longer operate as an innovation school and must apply to continue operations under the new virtual school provisions.) The plan calls for up to three more certificates to be issued between 2016 to 2019 and up to four from 2019 to 2020. 

Joint Committee on Education Summary of the Bill

  • Establishes Commonwealth Virtual Schools, which are public schools that operate under a certificate of organization issued by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and are governed by a board of trustees. School districts, education collaboratives, institutions of higher education, non-profits, teachers or parents may apply to open a Commonwealth Virtual School. For-profit entities and private and parochial schools are prohibited from applying for a school.
  • Requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to issue a request for proposals to establish a Commonwealth Virtual School, and enumerates what must be included in the RFP. The Board makes the final determination on selecting proposals, and may award a certificate to operate a school for between 3 and 5 years. 

Caps

  • Establishes a cap of 10 Commonwealth Virtual Schools that may operate at any one time, which shall be phased in over the course of several years. For the first 7 years, only school districts and collaboratives may apply to open a Commonwealth Virtual School (through the 2018-2019 school year). However, virtual schools established by a single school district or by multiple school districts, through an inter-district agreement or an education collaborative, shall not be counted towards the cap if the virtual school only enrolls students who reside in the district(s) that established the school. 
  • Also caps the total number of students attending Commonwealth Virtual Schools at 2% of the state’s public school population, or approximately 19,000 students. 
  • Requires the Board to give a preference to proposals that focus on certain students, including students who have dropped out, students with special medical needs requiring a home or hospital setting, or gifted and talented students.
  • Requires students in Commonwealth Virtual Schools to meet the same performance standards and testing requirements as students in other public schools.
  • Teachers in Commonwealth Virtual Schools must be licensed to teach in Massachusetts. 

Tuition and Funding

  • Caps the per pupil tuition paid for by a school district to send a student to a virtual school at $5,000, the school choice rate.  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education may, in consultation with the Operational Services Division, approve alternate tuition amounts proposed by applicants.  The Department is authorized to retain up to $75 per student enrolled in a Commonwealth Virtual School for the administration of the virtual school program.
  • Requires Commonwealth Virtual Schools to annually report information about their net assets, and authorizes the Board to set limits for the amount of excess funds a school may retain before having to return it to sending districts.
  • Requires Commonwealth Virtual Schools to conduct independent audits of their accounts.

Reporting Requirements

  • Each school must submit an annual report with information about courses, students, and other activities. 
  • The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education must report annually on the implementation and fiscal impact of the virtual school program. 
  • Requires the Commissioner to provide information to school districts about online courses that are aligned with state academic standards. 
  • If a single school district plans to operate a virtual school that enrolls only its own students, it is not subject to these requirements, provided that such district must submit a summary description of the proposed school to the Commissioner for review and comment.
  • Authorizes the Board to promulgate rules and regulations.

Digital Learning Advisory Council

  • Establishes a 15 member digital learning advisory council to advise the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education on all matters related to virtual education. This council will provide an additional level of oversight on the state of virtual education in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) at Greenfield

  • The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 established Innovation Schools, which are districts schools with increased autonomy and flexibility. A provision in the Innovation Schools statute allows an Innovation School to be established as a public virtual school. There is currently one Virtual Innovation School in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in Greenfield. This bill strikes the language in the Innovation School statute which allows for a Virtual Innovation School, and requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant Greenfield a certificate of operation to continue operating MAVA, provided Greenfield submits the information required to apply for a commonwealth virtual school.   

 For more information, see MTA's Distance and Online Learning Task Force page.