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K-12 Virtual Schools

Virtual Schools History

May 2012

Author: Kim Potts

Legislative Brief

Over the last several years, opportunities for students to receive some portion of their education online have become much more widespread in K–12 public schools. Researchers estimate that more than one million K–12 students in the U.S. were engaged in some form of virtual education in the 2007–08 school year, representing nearly a 50 percent increase over the previous two school years. The International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) estimates that by the close of 2010 “at least some” students in 48 of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., could access supplemental or full-time online educational opportunities. The 2011 edition of an annual survey of states, Keeping Pace with K–12 Online Learning, found that although many states have developed or allowed a variety of online learning opportunities, “in many states, students still have few options.” In 2011, the news in Tennessee for virtual education was mixed: a new Tennessee law expanded LEAs’ ability to develop K–12 virtual schools, but the state also experienced federal funding decreases that effectively shut down its state-led virtual education initiative, e4TN (effective, engaging e-learning environment for Tennessee). The e4TN program, which began in 2006, had an estimated 5,000 course enrollments for school year 2010–11, a substantial increase from previous years. This legislative brief presents a rough timeline of the rise of online learning options in Tennessee and across the country.