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Project February 4, 2021

Virtual Education Company Creates Charter School Minus the Oversight

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Grandview R-2 School District is the home base for an online school that draws students from across the state. Image by Doyle Murphy/Riverfront Times. United States.
Grandview R-2 School District is the home base for an online school that draws students from across the state. Image by Doyle Murphy/Riverfront Times. United States.

Eric Berger has collaborated with the Pulitzer Center and the Riverfront Times, an alt-weekly newspaper in St. Louis, to produce an investigation of Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA), which is essentially a virtual charter school minus the state oversight that usually regulates such institutions.

The program, run by Grandview R-2 School District, is connected to K12 Inc., a private virtual education company that has faced significant scrutiny around the United States because of concerns that it puts profit ahead of students' best interests.

At MOVA, students' performances are counted against the sending district rather than the one that actually operates the virtual program, meaning MOVA is not actually accountable for its students' performance. And unlike other virtual education programs, MOVA only accepts students on a full-time basis, so it is effectively a charter school.

Superintendents of a number of Missouri school districts have raised concerns about how MOVA, which is significantly more expensive than other virtual education programs, will affect them financially, how previously mediocre students are suddenly getting 100 percent on every assignment, how this could potentially hurt other students' class rank and hurt the district when it comes time for state standardized testing.

Grandview turned to virtual education and created MOVA after a business manager embezzled $1.6 million.

Afterwards, her boss, now the former Grandview superintendent, formed the connection between K12 and the district and reached an agreement to where he would be paid by both K12 and a percentage of the "profits" from the district based on the number of students who enrolled in the virtual education program.

Finally, unlike other virtual education programs here, MOVA never actually went through the state approval process for its academic year program, which launched in 2019. The operators started the application process to receive state approval and be listed on the state's virtual programs website but then stopped and instead filed a lawsuit on behalf of a family whose district rejected a student's request to enroll in MOVA. A judge ruled in the family's favor, which meant the state had to list MOVA on its website, even though it had never actually finished its application to be approved.

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