The North Carolina House passed a bill on June 9 designed to shore up processes and regulations surrounding the creation and operation of virtual public and charter schools. Supporters say the bill is necessary to ensure virtual academies serve students and families well in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We just went through virtual education with COVID. It’s been kind of like the wild, wild West. People were doing whatever, however, whenever with this subject,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes. “What COVID has shown us is that the role of virtual education is going to be permanent from here on out with our educational offerings. Since that is true, we need to put some parameters around it to ensure that the students are getting the best delivery of instruction as possible.”
Senate Bill 671, Virtual Education/Remote Academies/Virtual Charters, passed the chamber in a 73-22 vote.
The measure allows public school districts to replace inclement weather days requiring school closure with remote education days. Previously, that policy was a temporary one due to the pandemic.
The measure also opens the door for school districts to open virtual academies on their own. It establishes parameters for how a virtual academy is defined, enrollment stipulations, mandates on hardware and software provided to students, and operation and evaluation procedures. Only 15% of a district’s student population would be allowed to attend virtual school under the bill.
Another section makes updates to laws governing the governance and renewal of virtual charter schools.
Prior to taking a floor vote, several lawmakers voiced concerns with the bill, saying the process was being rushed.
“This is a good example of when I had babies — two — force feeding,” said Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake. “When the baby gets too much food in their mouth, they’ll spit it out because they can’t take it that fast … I can’t digest it that fast.”
“It’s a little rushed. I haven’t even seen this until this morning,” added Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. “I haven’t had time to digest this. I do have some concerns about what happened the last couple of years. When schools got shut down, we all know, whether you want to admit it or not, that education suffered doing this virtual stuff. This needs a lot more consideration than we can do today on it.”
Rep. David Willis, R-Union, countered that most students need to be in the classroom, but not all students are the same.
“We’ve got to have opportunities for students to learn in ways that fits them best, fits their family situation best,” he said. “Not all kids are designed to be in a classroom, sitting there for several hours a day in that same type of system we’ve had for 30 years.”
S.B. 671 now heads back to the Senate.