Saturday, August 10, 2002

Ohio districts pursue online charter schools

4,100 students to go digital this fall

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — With thousands of students now enrolled in four online charter schools, dozens of Ohio districts have expressed interest in starting their own digital charter schools.

        At least 192 organizations have told the state of their interest in applying for startup funds for charter schools, according to Department of Education records.

        At least 63 are districts proposing a “digital academy,” such as the possible Danville Digital Academy in central Ohio, the records show.

        And at least 39 districts have signed contracts with Marion-based TRECA Digital Academy to help develop online schools, said TRECA executive director Michael Carder.

        Such interest “is a huge spike, and it's a drastic departure from our experience in the past,” said Steve Burigana, executive director of the department's office of community schools.

        Ohio's charter school law allows local districts to operate charter schools, but only a handful have. Most are operated by private groups or companies.

        Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded and free from some state regulations. More than 120 charter schools are expected to be open this fall, enrolling about 30,000 students and receiving about $166 million in state funding.

        Online charter schools typically provide computers for students to use at home, a full grade-by-grade curriculum and instruction supervised by certified teachers.

        Schools are starting to see that online education can be done successfully and want to do it themselves, Mr. Burigana said.

        “In some cases they're looking at this and saying, "Maybe it's not a bad idea. We have a segment of our student population that can't be served by traditional methods, and this may be an opportunity to serve our students through a more nontraditional approach.”'

        Mr. Burigana said it's unclear how many of the schools will open their own charter schools.

        “There's only so many students and their parents who would choose to pursue this option,” he said. “I'm not entirely convinced that the saturation point is that far away.”

        The four online schools scheduled to open this fall will enroll at least 4,100 students, according to state records, but that figure is expected to climb.

        The Fairfield-Union school board is ready to approve a contract of about $50,000 with TRECA Monday to help develop the Fairfield-Union Digital Academy, superintendent Clark Davis said.

        The school district southeast of Columbus wants to stop students from enrolling in other online schools and make sure they are getting a good education if they choose the digital route, he said.

        Carder said TRECA's goal is to help districts develop online education courses.


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