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Virtual charter schools considered by Court of Appeals

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RALEIGH - A new type of educational institute is looking to be considered in North Carolina.

The state cap on the number of charter schools was lifted a few years ago, but the idea of a virtual charter school wasn't considered. When one wanted to start the state board of education, didn't consider it. When one wanted to start without board approval the court got involved

The North Carolina Court of Appeals listened to arguments Wednesday over whether or not the state can, or should, allow virtual public charter schools.

“The concept of a virtual charter school,” said attorney Bob Orr, arguing with the state to uphold the lower court ruling, which can pull from school districts from Murphy to Manteo is -- when I say radical -- I don't mean radical in the sense of bad, but certainly is extraordinarily different.”

This fight is to add a school choice option to an already long list that parents have to choose from.

Right now, almost 87 percent of students attended traditional public schools in North Carolina, but that number is going down slightly. Three percent, or nearly 49,000 kids attended charter schools last year school year. Like traditional schools, these are also tax payer funded.

More than 10 percent don't go to public schools at all. According to the Department of Public Instruction, almost six percent of North Carolina kids attend conventional non-public schools -- such as private or religious schools -- in the 2011/12 school year. Another five percent participate in home-schooling.

“I think it would be hard in our society to argue that you shouldn't have a choice,” says Dr. Lance Fusarelli with N.C. State University. “I think everyone, including public school educators would say there should be options.”

But Fusarelli argued school choice is not necessarily what it seems.

“Having a number of different types of schools isn't the same as the same as having lots of school options," he said.

He said things like transportation and tuition could be limiting factors.

Fusarelli says there is little change in how many kids attend non-traditional schools, and doesn't expect much change in the near future.

But for groups like those arguing before the Court of Appeals, they say they deserve to offer at least one more option for North Carolina.

“This is a matter that the agency within state government who is charged with the constitutional responsibility of administering public education should have taken a look at, “ said attorney Christy Wilhelm.

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