Keeping Pace in Review: Multi-district fully online schools – States with restrictions

Keeping Pace 2013 is released, and is available for download at Over the coming weeks we’re going to post highlights of the report here in our blog. Earlier this week we looked at enrollment growth in multi-district fully online schools, which served an estimated 310,000 students in 30 states in SY 2012-13. Today we’ll take a look at restrictions that are holding back growth. In SY 2013-14 there are 20 states operating multi-district fully online schools without restrictions, and nine states operating them with restrictions such as available grade levels, and caps on the number of students per class / school / district / state.

These restrictions typically fall into one of three categories, limiting:

  • The number of students (in a school, from a district, across a state)
  • The number of schools (in a district, in a state)
  • The number of out-of-district students (minimum number of in-district or maximum number of out-of-district students)

Some states have multiple restrictions, including Massachusetts, which limits all three. Massachusetts allowed its first virtual innovation school in 2009-10, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) at Greenfield. That school was capped at 500, and enrollments have neared that cap every year since. In 2013, “An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools” (Chapter 379) was signed into law; MAVA was required to apply for CMVS status, which it received in summer 2013. However, a CMVS approval process for new schools was not created prior to SY 2013-14, so no other schools were approved for this school year. In addition, CMVS will continue to operate under extensive restrictions:

  • No more than 2% of students statewide may enroll in virtual schools.
  • At least 5% of students in each CMVS must be from the sponsoring district or collaborative.
  • The board may authorize no more than three CMVS for the 2013-16 school years, and 10 total CMVS by 2020.

In Virginia, one fully online statewide school has been open for the last two school years, but as of SY 2013-14, it is primarily serving students in two counties, and all other students must pay an enrollment fee.

Legislation passed in Tennessee this year that adds a variety of restrictions to public virtual schools. SB157 (2013) states that:

  • Initial enrollment is limited to 1,500 students.
  • No more than 25% of a virtual school’s students may come from outside the LEA.
  • No school shall exceed 5,000 students.

Existing virtual public schools may continue to serve students who were enrolled as of January 1, 2013. The first two restrictions will be lifted when a “virtual public school demonstrates student achievement growth at a minimum level of ‘at expectations’ as represented by the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.” The legislation also states that if a school demonstrates “student achievement growth at a level ‘significantly below expectations’ for two consecutive years … the commissioner shall have the authority to reinstitute the enrollment caps … or direct the LEA to close the school.” This last requirement is in effect as of SY 2012-13.

The multi-district fully online section can be found on pp. 21-25 of Keeping Pace 2013, and includes a map of states with fully online schools (which is also available for download at, and a table with more details about those states, including restrictions.