Naked City

Will Eagle Fly Statewide?

The state's virtual charter school promoters are apparently determined to do another end run around the Legislature's repeated refusal to authorize their schemes for home-based online schools taught using software and computer equipment purchased with public-school funds. Turned away in several attempts during the 78th Legislature, the virtual vampires recruited the University of North Texas to submit a virtual charter program earlier this fall, but in the face of statewide and on-campus opposition, UNT administrators withdrew their bid to the Texas Education Agency.

Now Eagle Academies of Waco -- a charter running online schools in several cities, including Austin -- has applied for an "amendment" to its state charter for three schools (Beaumont, Waco, and McAllen/Pharr) to add 1,000 pupils and become effectively a "virtual school" for the entire state. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott has until Dec. 24 to make a decision on the application, or it goes into effect automatically. On Monday as the Chronicle went to press, TEA spokesperson Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said that she expected Scott's decision to be issued the next day and that she understood the staff recommendation is to reject the application, primarily because the Eagle Academy schools "do not have a stellar record" on state accountability standards. According to an April 4 Chronicle report by Michael May, "Chartered Well ... and Badly," nine of Eagle's 23 charters have been rated "low-performing" for the past two years.

The Chronicle recently obtained a Sept. 10 memo from Eagle administrator Barbara Hinkle to Kirsten Christophersen in the charter division of the TEA, in which Hinkle wrote, "At the request of Robert Scott, Eagle Academies of Texas is preparing documentation to submit an amendment for a statewide Virtual Academy," and asked for advice about preparing the documentation. (At press time, Hinkle could not be reached for comment.)

Ratcliffe said that she was told Eagle Academy first contacted Scott about making the application, and simply was informed about how to proceed. "I don't think there was any 'Nudge, nudge, wink, wink' [from Scott] that Eagle should apply," Ratcliffe said. At least 80 school districts reportedly wrote to the agency opposing Eagle's application.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Charter Schools, Eagle Academy, virtual charters, Texas Education Agency, Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, Robert Scott, Barbara Hinkle, Kirsten Christophersen

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