States struggle with online school oversight

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As U.S. children flock to virtual charter schools, states are struggling to catch up and develop rules to make sure the students get a real education and schools get the right funding.

The future of virtual schools is part of the larger school-choice debate seeing renewed attention since the installation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an online charter investor and advocate who sees them as a valuable option for students.

While some perform well, the sector has been plagued by accounts of low standards, mismanagement, and inflated participation counts at schools that are reimbursed based on the number of enrolled students. Ohio’s largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, this month lost the latest round of its battle over $60 million the state says is owed for enrollment that cannot be justified.

Findings of underperformance at e-schools have been so prevalent that even supporters have called for policymakers to intervene.