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An in-depth look by I-News - a Colorado-based nonprofit investigative news collaborative, Education News Colorado, and KUNC at the state’s online K-12 schools. Topics include: online K-12 school performance, state- and district-level oversight, and for-profit Education Management Organizations, such as K12 Inc.

COVA, K12 Inc. To Part Ways As New Online School Is Proposed [Updated]

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Colorado Virtual Academy and K12 Inc., the for-profit management company that oversees the school’s day-to-day operations, will be parting ways after the 2013-2014 school year.

Brian Bissell, head of the COVA board, confirmed the change Tuesday. It will go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.

Bissell, who is a K12 Inc. shareholder and has three children enrolled in COVA, says that the school could still use K12’s curriculum but says school leaders have decided that new management is the best option.

“It became clear that at certain points in COVA history the interests of COVA—that is our students and their families, their teachers and Colorado’s taxpayers—these have not always been aligned with K12’s interests,” he said.

Colorado Virtual Academy was one of the first online schools managed by K12 Inc. On Wednesday they will seek approval for a new multidistrict online school named College Prep Online Academy. According to a May 22 letter from Colorado Department of Education officials, the school would have a projected enrollment of 2,500, making it one of Colorado’s larger online schools.

Bissell says he has concerns about K12’s new school based on his experiences working with them. For example, Bissell said there was a “trove” of data that showed a steady decline in both parent and teacher satisfaction with COVA, but says that the board did not see the surveys until September 2012.

“There are no changes substantively between what’s been provided by K12 at COVA and what’s proposed to be provided at College Prep Online Academy. That’s troubling. We don’t think that’s good for Colorado,” he said.

For its part, COVA will be making several changes during the 2013-2014 school year as it moves forward. Those changes include hiring a senior level executive who reports directly to the COVA board and more control over marketing methods.

“The economics have shifted significantly so that the COVA board retains more Colorado taxpayer dollars to fund improvements in teacher salaries, to improve student-to-teacher ratios, to ensure a more robust pre-enrollment process so that prospective students and their families are clear about the expectations and rigor required if they choose to enroll at COVA,” said Bissell.

K12 Inc. could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Update 6:15 p.m. - Jeff Kwitowski, K12 Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications, responded after press time on two separate points. Kwitowski first clarified who the authorizer is behind College Prep Online Academy. He then reiterated the terms of next year’s agreement with COVA.

Kwitowski pointed to a June 3 letter written by Brian Bissell and K12 Founder and CEO Ron Packard stating that “We are pleased with the result and grateful to all involved who worked to reach this outcome.”

Kwitowski further writes:

"K12 provides its curriculum and academic programs to hundreds of online and blended school programs across the U.S, including COVA and many other online schools in CO.  Each school is distinct and different. It is wrong to say K12 is “proposing” a new school. CD BOCES (Falcon District 49 and Yuma School District 1) is proposing a new online school. It is their school and they are the authorizer. I refer you to them."

KUNC will be seeking comment from CD BOCES.

Editor's Note: The headline for this story has been updated following comment from K12 Inc. The original headline read "COVA, K12 Inc. To Part Ways As K12 Proposes New School."

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