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Indiana Board Of Education Approves State's First Private Virtual Schools

Indiana saw growing interest in virtual education even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many students online. (FILE PHOTO: WFIU/WTIU)

The Indiana Board of Education approved accreditation for two new virtual schools at its meeting Wednesday. The schools are the state's first-ever private virtual schools, and both plan to participate in the school voucher program. 

FaithPrep Indiana is a new religious virtual school with ties to the Columbus Christian School in Bartholomew County, and Geo Focus Academy is affiliated with the Greater Education Opportunities Foundation, a charter school operator in Gary and Indianapolis. 

GEO Foundation President Kevin Teasley says despite the new academy being a private school, he wants it to be free for as many students as possible. 

"Well the goal is that it's not going to cost the student anything – we're going to have the voucher from the state of Indiana and then we're going to raise scholarships to make up the other 10 percent," he said. 

The state expanded the school voucher program earlier this year, meaning more students will qualify for a greater percentage of voucher funding, including more wealthier families.

Teasley says students at GFA will start out in the virtual school, but enroll in college courses by the time they hit high school. He says the school plans to cover the costs for students to enroll at one of Ivy Tech Community College's campuses, so they can earn degrees before leaving high school or transfer their credits to a four-year college or university.

The board approved accreditation for the two new schools after the Indiana Department of Education recommended it approve the requests. 

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The decision comes after a troubled history between the state and virtual schools; two virtual charter schools in the state fraudulently collected more than $68 million in state funding by faking student records and were forced to close in 2019.

Teasley said he's closely monitored Indiana's experiences with problematic virtual charter schools, and plans to take steps to ensure accountability and close monitoring of student enrollment and coursework. 

"I've been very critical of what has happened in the past where there wasn't enough accountability or oversight," he said. "I want to hold those that provide choices of education to students to a very high standard."

Teasley said the new Geo Focus Academy will monitor student engagement and participation to ensure "authentic" student work. The school will open later this year.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.