By Jeff Kwitowski, K12 VP of Public Affairs
Boy, did the Memphis Commercial Appeal get it wrong.
On August 20, the Appeal published a slanted article calling the new Tennessee Virtual Academy, “a real headache,” suggesting widespread frustration among families attempting to enroll their children in the new online public school.
Considering the high level of excitement from Tennessee families and the rush to participate in Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), I was very skeptical.
The Appeal’s story is based almost entirely on a conversation the reporter had with one parent, Ms. Angela Muhammad. So I called Ms. Muhammad to hear her concerns directly. What I got was a much different account than what appeared in the paper. She was aggravated alright – at the Commercial Appeal for twisting her story into a negative article.
Ms. Muhammad told me she was never frustrated with K12, Union County Public Schools, or the Tennessee Virtual Academy. On the contrary, her experience with K12 and TNVA has been nothing but positive. What irritated her was the pile of paperwork parents must work through to access public school programs like TNVA.
This is not unusual. Enrollment guidelines are dictated by state laws and regulations, including eligibility requirements. These are not K12’s policies. They are mandated by the state. As a service provider to public schools, K12 helps parents like Ms. Muhammad navigate through these requirements as painlessly as possible. We don’t set the rules, nor can we waive them.
The process can be even more complicated for parents who have to transfer (or “open enroll”) into another school district to access an online public school. If a parent misses the open enrollment period – which in Tennessee ends 2 weeks before the start of school – they must get permission from their local school district. Other states erect far higher barriers. In Wisconsin, parents only have a three week open enrollment period in the middle of February. Because of the narrow window, many parents are forced to wait a full year before they can enroll their child in an online public school offered through another school district. That’s a long time to wait, especially for children that are falling behind and need an alternative. Other states don’t have open enrollment, which leads to kids being trapped in failing schools with no options. For this reason education reform-minded policymakers are working to create or expand open enrollment to give families more public school choices.
Back to the Commercial Appeal. The article never reported on the enthusiasm parents have for TNVA. It didn’t look at the reasons parents are choosing this public school option for their kids. Rather than examining the real cause for some parents’ frustration – the state-mandated requirements -- the Appeal chalks it all up to the virtual school “headache.”
Yet, as this much more accurate article from The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, TN shows, TNVA has actually helped relieve headaches for many parents.
Ms. Muhammad’s two children successfully enrolled in TNVA and she’s thrilled to be a part of the K12/TNVA family. She received confirmation that her children were enrolled a day before the Appeal ran their story.
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