SANTA FE – A charter school in New Mexico that teaches students remotely by phone and internet is receiving public funding for hundreds of students who no longer are enrolled, amid attempts by state education officials to close the school.
New Mexico Connections Academy will receive about $6 million during the current school year for students who are no longer enrolled, according to an accountability report from the budget-writing New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee. State spending accounts for the majority of public school funding in New Mexico. The school said Wednesday that it was setting aside some of the excess funding for future years when state funding is likely to lag behind enrollment.
Enrollment at the online school for grades 4 through 12 fell from more than 1,800 to students to about 1,100 after state officials declined to renew the school’s charter earlier this year amid lagging student academic results. Connections Academy successfully appealed the decision as arbitrary in state district court, though an appeal by the Public Education Department is pending.
Connections Academy opened in the fall of 2013 and contracts with the for-profit education curriculum provider Connections Education that is owned by Pearson.
New Mexico Connections Academy School Leader Elisa Bohannon said in an email that the excess $6 million cited by the Legislature “stays with the school and serving students” and does not go toward affiliated for-profit businesses.
“New Mexico Connections Academy is funded on the last year’s enrollment, like every other school in New Mexico,” Bohannon wrote.
So-called virtual charter schools such as New Mexico Connections Academy largely teach stay-at-home students over the internet without attendance at traditions classrooms.
Online charter schools typically have lower fixed costs than traditional schools that maintain classrooms, cafeterias and other facilities for daytime students.
An evaluation of three virtual charter schools in New Mexico by the Legislature last year found they had lower academic achievement in general than classroom-based schools – even though the online schools enroll fewer at-risk students from impoverished, non-English speaking families.
In its overruled effort to revoke the charter for Connections Academy, state education authorities cited consecutive “F” ratings on the state’s A-through-F performance evaluations. In its appeal, New Mexico Connections Academy said the state did not define academic standards and recommended consideration of performance measures other than the state A-F rating.
A district court judge sided with the academy, also citing violations of the state open meetings act.
Another state chartered school, the Taos International School, also has successfully appealed a decision this year by the Public Education Commission and Public Education Department secretary to revoke its charter.