Will online K-12 find a home in New Mexico?

By | December 20th, 2012

An administrative hearing held in Santa Fe this week could determine whether public education will occupy the digital information age or the confines of the schoolhouse­.

New Mexico Connections Academy, a fledgling virtual charter school, sought the hearing to appeal the Public Education Commission’s (PEC) 6-3 vote in September denying its application to launch a statewide K-12 “virtual” charter school beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.

New Mexico Secretary of Public Education-designate Hanna Skandera presided over the hearing Wednesday that posed the question of whether the Commission can grant a charter to authorize a statewide virtual charter school.

“I assure you that I have not pre-determined or pre-considered the outcome of this appeal and that I intend to approach it with an open mind. I’m presiding as a hearing officer in this matter…” stated Skandera in her introductory remarks [seen in video above] at the hearing.

At the close of the proceeding, Skandera announced that she will issue a written ruling on that appeal no later than January 30, 2013.

A virtual charter school is one that provides an online-centered curriculum to students regardless of their neighborhood or, in some instances, even their school district. New Mexico already has such a statewide school because the Farmington School District granted the New Mexico Virtual Academy a charter, which effectively allowed it to open its doors this year to any child in the state.

It now serves 500 students in grades 6 through 11, according to a September 9 story by the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Connections Academy, by contrast, applied directly to the Public Education Commission for a statewide charter. Leading the effort to found Connections Academy, an affiliate of a national virtual education corporation operating in 23 states, are former state Sen. Mark Boitano, an Albuquerque Republican, who helped draft the 1999 Charter School Act; Patrick Lopez, the director of Explora-an interactive children’s museum in Albuquerque; Carlo Lucero, an Albuquerque businessman; and Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, among several others.

In October, despite the fact that the Public Education Department’s Charter Schools Division recommended the NMCA for approval by the PEC, the Commission denied NMCA’s application in a 6-3 decision.

In its majority opinion, the Commission cited three grounds for denying the application: 1) the application was essentially contrary to the “best interests” of students, the educational system, and the statewide community; 2) the New Mexico Charter laws are “sufficiently ambiguous” as to the authority of the Commission to grant such a charter, and 3) the Public Education Department’s rules for charter schools preclude “distance learning” as a substitute for in-person instruction unless approved by a local school board.

“What is really needed is broad-based school choice,” said Gessing in an op-ed that appeared on KUNM - 89.9 FM. He also noted that, “Legislation setting up tax credit programs will be introduced in the 2013 legislative session.”