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Georgia students have access to digital learning options through the state virtual school (Georgia Virtual School, GAVS), which served 33,041 course enrollments; several district programs; and three statewide fully online schools that enrolled 18,035 students in SY 2013-14, an annual increase of 34%. Online and blended learning policy has undergone significant change in Georgia since the publication of Keeping Pace in October, 2012. Please click here to read our blog post updating activity in Georgia. Georgia has online learning activity through the state virtual school Georgia Virtual School, (GAVS), several large district programs, and three fully online schools.

Fully online schools

Three fully online schools served students in SY 2013-14: the Georgia Cyber Academy served 13,300 enrollments in grades K-12, Georgia Connections Academy served 2,994 students in grades K-12, and Provost Academy Georgia served 1,741 students in grades 9-12. Total enrollment in the three statewide fully online schools increased 34% in SY 2013-14 over SY 2012-13.

Virtual charters have a tumultuous history in Georgia in regard to authorization and funding. Details of the history can be found on p. 32 on the Cost and Funding section of Keeping Pace 2011, however, the debate was based on two pieces of legislation:

  • SB610 (2006) amended charter school law to allow for online charter schools, but only allowed local district boards to act as charter school authorizers. The State Board of Education could also grant state-charter special schools (SCSS) status.
  • HB881 (2008) created the “Georgia Charter Schools Commission as an independent, state-level charter school authorizing entity … empowered to approve commission charter schools.” It authorized the Commission to set charter funding levels.

In May 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia found HB881 to be unconstitutional. In June 2011, the State Board of Education took action to restore charters to those schools that had been stripped of them by the Supreme Court decision; this included two virtual charters. First, it voted unanimously to renew an existing charter for the Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), a K-10 program administered by K12 Inc., operating the online arm of the brick-and-mortar Odyssey Charter School. The Odyssey/GCA charter was approved for the 2007-08 school year by the State Board before HB881 and the formation of the commission. GCA had also applied to the commission for authorization. The remaining 13 charter schools previously approved by the commission, including Georgia Connections Academy, could have applied for the same state board authorization, but the deadline for SY 2011-12 had passed. The State Board revisited the annual deadline in June, reopened applications, and in late June voted to grant SCSS status to nine schools and Local Charter status to two schools, making Georgia Connections Academy the second statewide virtual charter school operating for the 2011-12 school year. Although SCSS status is usually granted for a five-year charter, the State Board issued two-year charters.

The governor then pledged to “forward-fund” the existing brick-and-mortar charter schools approved by the Commission for 2011-12 at the same level they had anticipated before the Supreme Court ruling, but the additional funding was not extended to virtual charters. The result of all this is that two virtual charter schools will operate in Georgia in 2011-12, but will do so under SCSS status at a much lower level of funding. Funding will be based on the quality basic education (QBE) formula of  was $2,800 per pupil for 2011-12.

The challenges were resolved with the passage of a 2012 ballot referendum that amended the state constitution and created an independent state-level charter  school authorizer. The enabling legislation, HB797110 (2012), established a new State Charter Schools Commission operating under the SBE and defined its duties and powers in regard to charter schools, which include developing and disseminating best practices and accountability standards, presenting an annual report to the SBE on academic and financial performance, and making public information available to parents. HB797 also established a new funding formula, allowing virtual charters to receive the same per-pupil funding as brick-and-mortar schools per the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula, plus supplemental funding for all charter schools that was established by HB797. Per-pupil base funding for fully online students was $4,334 for SY 2013-14 and is $4,779 for SY 2014-15.

HB175 (2012) created Georgia’s Online Clearinghouse, directed by the SDE, through which local school systems and charter schools may offer online courses to students in other schools and districts. The SDE launched the clearinghouse in 2013 despite having no funding for reviews or approvals. Currently, it only lists online courses from GAVS and public school districts that have received regional accreditation, but it does not include outside providers. Criteria for approval had not been established as of September 2013.

State virtual school

GAVS was created by legislation in 2005, and in 2006 the State Board of Education created the rule that governs the school. GAVS had 25,877 course enrollments in SY 2012-13, a 24% annual increase. GAVS expanded to serve grades 6-12 beginning with SY 2012-13 and plans to serve grades 3-12 in 2014-15. GAVS served 33,041 course enrollments in SY 2013-14, a 28% increase over the previous year. GAVS also provides more than 70 online courses as open educational resources at no cost to Georgia districts, and is among the first state virtual schools to pilot an online option specifically to address college and career readiness for students. GAVS is unusual for a state virtual school in that its supplemental students take state end-of-course exams, allowing for a comparison of test scores between students in online courses and state averages. In SY 2012-13, students taking EOCs through GAVS scored higher than or equal to the state average on 10 of the 11 EOCs administered.  Although this is a measure of proficiency that does not take student growth into account, it is a better measure than most states have for outcomes of supplemental online courses. GAVS also provides more than 50 online courses as open educational resources at no cost to Georgia districts.

GAVS students must take their online course as part of their regular school day. Courses are available on a tuition basis outside the school day and for summer school. In 2011, State Board of Education rule eliminated a restriction that limited GAVS students to one online course per term. All resident students are allowed to take GAVS courses, whether public, private, or homeschool, but public students are given priority.

The GAVS annual line-item funding for operations increased from $1.5 million in SY 2013-14 to $3.1 million for SY 2014-15 to address provisions of SB289, including the development of online courses for grades 3-5; it expects total funding of about $7.5 million for SY 2014-15. Line-item funding will become a smaller percentage of total funding as per-course, per-student funding from districts increases. A limited number of state funded seats are offered to homeschooled and private students as part of annual line item funding.

District programs

There are several suburban Atlanta districts that operate their own online programs, including Gwinnett County Online Campus and Cobb Virtual Academy. The Gwinnett Online Campus was granted charter authorization by the State Board of Education in July 2011; it opened for high school students in fall 2011, middle school students in 2012, and some elementary students in 2012. Charter status allows Gwinnett Online to offer full-time options for Gwinnett County students in addition to supplemental courses.  In SY 2012-13, GOC served 107 fully online enrollments and about 5,000 supplemental enrollments, nearly half of which were in summer school. Cobb Virtual Academy served 1,903 course enrollments and 1,023 unique students. Fulton, DeKalb, and Henry Counties also have online programs with courses listed in Georgia’s Online Clearinghouse.

Twiggs County public school opened a nine-district fully online school in SY 2013-14. Forsyth County Schools’ iAchieve Virtual Academy also offers a fully online program for county residents; it accepts out-of-district students for tuition.

Online learning policy history

In 2012, the Georgia legislature passed three bills that significantly impacted online learning policy. SB289109 affected all school districts in Georgia and included the following provisions:

  • All students in grades 9-12 may enroll in online courses in GAVS without approval of the student’s home district, “regardless of whether the school in which the student is enrolled offers the same course.” A limit of one GAVS course per semester per student was eliminated.
  • All districts must provide written information on both part- and full-time online learning options to parents of all students in grades 3-12.
  • All providers must be approved by the State Department of Education (SDE), which publishes a list of approved clearinghouse providers each year.

SB289 also prohibited local school boards from enacting policies to keep students from online classes during the school day, and required that publishers of textbooks recommended by the State Board of Education (SBE) provide electronic versions of such textbooks.

State policy in Georgia is guided by rule 160-8-1-.01. GAVS students must take their online course as part of their regular school day. Courses are available on a tuition basis outside the school day and for summer school. All students who are residents are allowed to take a course with GAVS, whether public, private, or homeschool, but public students are given priority.

last updated October 10, 2014

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