Under the Dome

Online charter schools would have to provide equipment, connections

A contract with virtual public charter schools under consideration by the State Board of Education would have one of the online charter applicants reconfiguring its budget.

A State Board committee on Monday approved draft contract language that would require the online charters provide computer equipment and internet connections to students who could not afford them. Board members and their advisers had been concerned that low-income students who didn't have computers or internet connections wouldn't be able to participate.

Two companies have applied to start public online charter schools this fall. State law requires that the State Board approve two schools for a four-year pilot program.

A representative of one of the schools, N.C. Connections Academy, said last month at a State Board meeting it could not afford to pay for equipment and internet connections for low-income students.

In an interview Monday, Bryan Setser, president of the Connections Academy board, said, "If that becomes a requirement, we have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to make it work with the current budget.

"We keep getting new requirements to a new process," he said. "We'll do what we've always done. We'll try to make it work."

N.C. Connections Academy, affiliated with the education conglomerate Pearson, and N.C. Virtual Academy, which is affiliated with online education company K12, Inc., are up for a final approval at the State Board meeting next week.

Another provision of the proposed contract would have the schools provide learning coaches if parents or other adults aren't available. Learning coaches are adults who work at home with students, making sure they participate in online classes. In the lower grades, children spend most of their time working with learning coaches. The school would be responsible for providing criminal background checks of learning coaches it finds.