The VHS Blog

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Commonwealth Virtual Schools – Impact on Massachusetts School Districts - UPDATED

UPDATE:  On January 29, 2013, the ESE Board voted to delay the timeline for some of the virtual school applications. For now, only MAVA (Greenfield/K12) will be able to apply for a state-wide virtual school for the 2013-2014 school year (RFP to be released sometime in February). Others will be able to apply for the 2014-2015 school year (RFP to be released October 1, 2013). Here is a link to the memo approved by the board:

On January 2, 2013, Governor Patrick signed house bill 4274, “An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools.”  The Commonwealth Virtual Schools legislation provides the vehicle for broader online learning adoption in Massachusetts, primarily for those kindergarten-12th grade students and their parents that desire a full time virtual education.  The new law will allow up to ten (three for next school year) state-wide virtual schools to recruit up to approximately 19,000 (capped at 2% of the total k-12 student population) students from anywhere in the Commonwealth.  Importantly, it establishes guidelines that are intended to ensure that all participating students receive a high quality education. 

The new law will have a significant impact on school districts around the commonwealth, both on their ability to provide all resident students with a quality education and on their budgets.  However, it is more incremental and restrictive than legislation passed in other states.  For instance, Minnesota and Washington allow students across their states to transfer to virtual programs with little or no restrictions and all funding follows the student.  You can learn more about virtual programs across the country in the annual report, Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning

In Governor Patrick’s January 4, 2013, press release, full time virtual schools are described as “…new avenues for students to prepare for future successes.”  The press release goes on to indicate that the bill establishes clear guidelines for approval and operation of the virtual schools while directing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to draft structural and oversight regulations. 

Key Points for Educators, Parents and Students

Who is eligible to submit a proposal to establish a virtual school and how many students can enroll?

  • School Districts – beginning in 2013
  • Education Collaboratives – beginning in 2013
  • Institutions of Higher Education – beginning in 2019
  • Non-profit Entities – beginning in 2019
  • Two or More Certified Teachers – beginning in 2019
  • Parents – beginning in 2019

For-profit entities, private schools and parochial schools are not eligible to apply, however the law allows for contracting with an organization that will manage or operate the school.

Total enrollment cannot exceed 2% of the total public school enrollment, which is currently about 950,000.

Preferential treatment is given to virtual school applicants that target one or more of the following groups

  • students with physical or other challenges that make it difficult for them to physically attend a school
  • students with medical needs requiring a home or hospital setting
  • students with unusual needs requiring a flexible schedule
  • students who are over-age for their grade
  • students who have been expelled
  • students who have dropped out
  • students at risk of dropping out
  • students who are pregnant or have a child
  • students with social and emotional challenges that make it difficult for them to physically attend a school
  • students who feel bullied or cannot attend school because the students’ safety is at risk
  • gifted and talented students
  • students who seek academic work not available in their school
  • students in rural communities
  • students in institutionalized settings

Well, that certainly narrows it down….

Cost allocation when a student transfers to virtual school

  • Districts will pay the virtual school the school choice amount, currently capped at $5,000 per student
  • The department can approve higher amounts, at the request of the virtual school applicant, not to exceed the state average per pupil foundation budget
  • The department may also approve higher amounts for services required by individualized education plans

Over the coming weeks The VHS Collaborative will hold informational sessions about the new law, its impact on all of us and what we can do to participate while mitigating any potential negative consequences.  Please contact us for dates and locations across the commonwealth.


I have two questions about this new law. First, how are teachers being recruited to satisfy the needs of the target student groups? second, how will this affect any college entry testing such as ACT or SAT?

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