Riley Eubanks, CNHI News Indiana

Indianapolis - Virtual charter schools would be overseen by statewide authorizers rather than individual school communities under a bill in the Indiana General Assembly.

The bill comes after the task of running an online charter proved too great for Daleville Community Schools, which is ending its virtual charter program.

Daleville graduated 2.2 percent of its online students during the 2017-18 school year, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Daleville Superintendent Paul Garrison told the State House Education Committee in January that more oversight is needed to provide better virtual education for students.

“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.

According to the state education department, more than 18,000 students were enrolled in online schools in the 2018-19 school year. More than 13,000 of those students were enrolled in virtual charter schools

In an analysis of five virtual charter schools, the state found that the dropout rate was significantly higher than the statewide average of 1 percent among traditional schools.

For the 2017-18 school year, three virtual charters had dropout rates in the double digits, with 29 percent of students in Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy dropping out, according to the state. That percent represents more than 1,500 students.

Senate Bill 567, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, addresses virtual charters and online education as a whole to try to improve the quality of education and graduation and retention rate.

The bill was fused with a bill authored by House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, and was unanimously amended and passed in Behning’s committee Monday.

As amended, the bill would hold students enrolled in virtual schools to attendance standards similar to those of traditional schools.

As suggested by Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, virtual programs would also have an on-boarding process that includes both the parent and the student.

Lawmakers agreed by consensus that virtual education programs require students to exercise responsibility and that online school shouldn’t be seen as an easier option than traditional school.

“If you’re not successful in a brick and mortar, your chance of success at a virtual charter, where you’re in charge of your own education, is very unlikely,” Behning said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association testified in support of the bill.

“The bill is a good, positive step toward improving accountability,” said ISTA spokesman John O’Neill.

He said the ISTA wants to assure a “manageable load” for students and teachers and an appropriate teacher- to-student ratio.

The bill was the second-to-last piece of legislation passed out of the House Education Committee, which had its final meeting Monday.

It’s expected to receive a similar vote in the full House to Behning’s original bill, which passed 92-3 before being axed in the Senate in favor of Senate Bill 567.

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