One of the largest online charter schools in Georgia is closing its elementary school at the end of this school year, according to an email sent to parents by Georgia Connections Academy Executive Director Heather Robinson.
According to Robinson’s email, she states that “without question, the decision to close the K-5 Connections Academy after the 2017-2018 school year was extremely difficult.” Robinson’s email further stated the charter school authorizer (manager of the school finances) decided to close the elementary school program due to consistently unsatisfactory scores “nor is it showing improvement according to the CCRPI (state report card)” for the past five years.
Georgia Connections Academy is still expecting to continue operating in grades 6-12 through the rest of this school year and next school in 2018-2019 based on the agreement with the online charter school’s authorizer. Students currently in grade 5 expecting to be promoted to grade 6 will be able to attend the online charter school next year.
The email further states that “students in grades K-4 will need to enroll in a different school for the 2018-2019 school year. Students may enroll in their district school according to their address/residence.” Furthermore, students looking to transfer will be able to do so after the end of current school year.
Georgia Connections Academy has received tens of millions of dollars in state funds from the General Assembly, but the performance has been less than stellar. Currently, the school services over 13,000 students statewide. In 2015, the online charter school received $82 million from state and federal government funds. In 2016, the Georgia Charter School Commission threaten to shut down them down, along with other charters in the state, if their results did not improve. Improved results mainly based on standardized test score linked inside of the CCRPI (state report card).
Online charter schools typically have a high student turnover rate which often affects the stability of the student if they are not used to the online learning environment and the school’s financial bottom line. Charter schools get roughly $5000 per student as opposed to traditional Georgia public schools who receive approximately $9200 per student on average.
The Georgia Charter School Commission, set up by the 2012 Georgia Charter School Amendment, which oversees state charter schools revokes or continues a school’s charter if the school does not have three more years of continuous improvement. Georgia Connections Academy has been on the Governor’s Office Student Achievement list of failing schools since 2015. Before 2015, the school operated as another online charter school before changing its charter due to underperformance.
The closure of the elementary portion of the school is likely due systemic problem as a whole. In 2016, research paints a grim picture of the online charter school landscape and some of the most prominent advocates are calling for education authorities to step up oversight on online school shut those down that are failing and this includes the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.