Right now, courses are offered for children in kindergarten through second grade, but K12 will add lessons for grades three through five next fall and will continue adding three grades a year until a twelfth-grade curriculum is available. Home-schoolers can also purchase the curriculum directly from K12 rather than going through a charter school.
Funding for COVA works the same as funding for all charter schools, which are simply public schools with more autonomy. Charter schools get 95 percent of the per-pupil operating revenue from the state rather than the 100 percent that regular public schools receive; the amount that each charter school gets depends on the size of the school district to which it belongs. COVA gets approximately $5,000 per student from the state, and that money is used to reimburse K12 as well as to pay fourteen staff members to run the virtual school. The state money hasn't been enough to cover all of COVA's costs, however. Colorado only gives schools 50 percent of the per-pupil operating cost for half-day kindergartners. But COVA still has to provide its kindergartners, who account for more than a third of the virtual school's population, with computers, printers and other materials. Right now, K12 is covering what the state doesn't, and that has totaled approximately $400,000.
Although COVA parents are largely in charge of their kids' learning, ten of the organization's staffers are licensed teachers who are always on hand to help them. The teachers also work out of their homes and typically communicate with parents by phone or e-mail. "They have scheduled meetings with the parents, and they review the progress of the child," Griffith says. "They're the accountability piece that comes with public school. The students have to master a concept before they go on to the next one, and the teacher gives parents strategies to help kids master the material."
Like many home-schoolers, COVA parents take their children on regular field trips so that the kids have a chance to socialize with one another. But those parents don't have all the freedom that true home-schoolers enjoy. The same regulations that exist in regular public schools apply to students in virtual charter schools: COVA kids have to attend 180 days of school each year, even though they have more flexibility in the vacation days they take and the time of day -- or night -- that they spend on their lessons. They also have to get the same immunizations that everyone has to get before enrolling in public school, and they're required to supply their medical records to the virtual school.
In addition, the students must take the same standardized tests that everyone else does, and those tests must be taken at a location outside of the home and be proctored by a teacher.
That's what troubles home-schooling groups like Christian Home Educators of Colorado. "This organization is open to a large variety of educational alternatives, because every family has unique needs," says Kevin Swanson, executive director of CHEC. "The virtual-academy approach is a fantastic application of our technological advancement, but the one hesitancy we would express is to be careful about government involvement in your educational choices, because it can, indeed, limit your options. We just want people to know that what the government funds, the government controls."
The Christian Home Educators Association of California went a step further and canceled William J. Bennett as the keynote speaker for its annual home-schooling convention last June when members of the organization's board of directors learned that Bennett's company had been approved to offer K12 in a charter school in Pennsylvania -- the first state to okay the curriculum in a public school. Then they banned the K12 exhibit from their convention hall.
A contributor for The School Liberator, an electronic newsletter for members of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, weighed in on the cancellation, saying, "Teaching talent and home-school community spirit are drained when families throw in the towel on independent learning for the lure of free computers and materials. These benefits have a hidden price tag. Parents lose the right to choose educational materials for their children and will be subject to state curriculum requirements on the teaching of sex and drug education and a plethora of other social programs that have little to do with education and everything to do with social engineering... Congratulations to CHEA of California for making a principled stand and canceling Bennett and K12 at their conference."