Legislation to authorize virtual instruction options for next school year and set new parameters for it thereafter was rolled into the state budget bill this week rather than moving forward in Senate Bill 671, where it originally started this session. The budget provision on virtual instruction, now contained in Section 7.13 of House Bill 103, differs a bit from the House version of S671 that had been sent to a conference committee of negotiators earlier this month.
The budget provision, if enacted into law, would allow local education agencies (LEAs), as well as charter schools, to operate remote academies under certain conditions. Schools with a school code assigned prior to May 1, 2021, or those that submitted a virtual instruction plan for 2021-2022 could continue to provide full-time virtual instruction in 2022-2023. The bill would also allow public school units to utilize a limited number of “remote instruction days” during inclement weather or other emergencies each year, rather than canceling school for the day. This permanent addition to the school calendar law had been requested by NCASA.
LEAs also would be allowed to establish new remote academies beginning in 2023-2024, but would face a new set of parameters and limitations for those schools, including:
- Submitting a remote academy plan to the State Board of Education for approval and receiving a separate school code;
- Securing parental consent for assigning students to the academy;
- Meeting class size requirements and having a minimum of 100 students enrolled in the academy to earn a state-paid, 12-month principal; and
- Retaining discretion to reassign a student to in-person school, if the local school board or superintendent deems that is better for a student’s learning needs.
Earlier versions of this legislation had proposed allowing LEAs to enroll no more than 15% of their students in one or more virtual academies within their district. NCASA raised concerns about this limit, especially since parental consent is required for student enrollment in these academies, and lawmakers ultimately agreed not to cap LEA enrollment in these schools.
Starting in 2023-2024, this legislation would, however, eliminate the “school within a school” model in which some LEAs have previously provided full-time virtual instruction to cohorts of students inside one of their traditional schools.
The final legislation also changed the House’s previous proposal on next steps for the state’s two existing virtual charter schools that have continued to be low-performing. Rather than providing those schools with a 5-year charter as initially proposed, this legislation instead would add two years to their pilot-program status, allowing them to operate through 2024-2025 and then apply to the State Board of Education to become a full-fledged charter school.