Cedar Rapids School District Supplies Most Students to State's Online-Only Schools

By Mike Wiser, Reporter

The new Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District at 2500 Edgewood Road NW will replace support buildings damaged in the 2008 flood. Photographed on Monday, March 19, 2012, in northwest Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Larry Burkum

DES MOINES, Iowa - The state's two public online-only schools get more students from the Cedar Rapids Community School District than any other in the state, data released this week by the Iowa Department of Education shows.

The 36 students — 16 enrolled in the Connections Academy program based in the CAM Community School District, 20 enrolled in Iowa Virtual Academy based in Clayton Ridge Community School District — are only a small percentage of the district’s 16,800 students.

Still, it’s more than the less-than-two dozen who enrolled from the Des Moines Public School District area. The Des Moines School District is the state’s largest with more than 32,400 students. Cedar Rapids is the state’s second-largest school district.

Superintendent David Benson said the percentage of students was statistically insignificant. He added it was “difficult to draw any conclusions” from the report because it’s impossible to compare percentages between districts without more specific data.

The two online schools are getting students from 152 of the state’s 348 school districts and from nearly each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Connections Academy has 320 students and the Virtual Academy 189 during the 2013-14 school year. Both schools are run by for-profit companies based outside of Iowa.

But the numbers aren’t exact for many of the home school districts, including Des Moines, because state privacy laws prohibit Department of Education officials giving a specific number of students if there are less than 10 involved because of concerns they could be individually identified.

That’s why the Des Moines figure shows there are 12 students enrolled in the Iowa Virtual Academy and less than 10 enrolled in Connections Academy, so the true number of online-only students from that district can range from as few as 13 to as many as 20.

Likewise, the range from the state’s third-largest school district, Davenport, could be anywhere from two students to 18. That’s also the range in the Sioux City Community School District, Mason City Community School District and the Muscatine Community School District. The Waterloo Community School District doesn’t have any students enrolled in either online-only school, according to the Education Department report.

“We gave them a maximum of roughly 900 students, and they’re not close to that max,” said state Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, who drafted legislation this year that would loosen enrollment restrictions for out-of-state companies to run online-only schools. The bill died in committee this week.

Both schools are in the middle of advertising campaigns in the state as the open enrollment period for Iowa schools ends March 1.

Jorgensen, a former school board member who chairs the House Education Committee, said he’ll continue to work on the legislation. He said the concern from some superintendents that they would lose a significant portion of their student body and the $6,000-plus in state aid that comes with each pupil hasn’t materialized.

“I think there’s always going to be a concern and some fear from every district. We want to make sure the (online school) marketing is accurate and not deceptive,” he said. “I do think giving parents an option is advantageous, but (online school) is certainly not for everyone.”

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