A dispute erupted on Dec. 16 when the ratings came out on the Branson Alternative School, a virtual school headquartered in Branson, Colo. State officials marked Branson down as one of the worst schools in the state, but angry supporters blame brick-and-mortar rules for artificially depressing the online school's results.

Branson Alternative, operated from a 1920s schoolhouse in southern Colorado, reportedly earns millions for the otherwise impoverished district. And parents say it renewed their faith in public education after their children, many of whom have special physical or emotional needs, had bad experiences in


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