Education leaders in Arizona have approved the creation of five new virtual schools as part of a pilot program that allows elementary school children to attend class through a home computer.

Members of the State Board for Charter Schools selected the five schools from a field of 19 candidates.

“We’ve been working on this for two years,” said Damian Creamer. Creamer runs the Primavera Technical Learning Center in Chandler, Ariz., which was among the schools to receive board approval on July 21 to launch internet learning. “We have a desire to bring this to a much greater population than just students in Chandler.”

Four other state schools already offer electronic learning, including Sequoia Choice, an electronic charter school, and the Arizona public school districts of Deer Valley and Mesa.

The virtual schools will offer internet-based courses in which children log on from home and get passwords, eMail accounts, and class assignments via computer. Arizona students in kindergarten through 12th grade can attend the online schools as long as they have not been home-schooled immediately before enrolling.

There are no district boundaries, and students from any region can enroll in any of the online schools. Some of the charter academies require that students have a home computer and an internet connection. Proponents say that the creation of the virtual schools will provide educational opportunities to youth in rural areas.

To ensure that students are matching the skills of their traditionally schooled peers, Arizona law requires that pupils in virtual schools take all standardized tests. The schools themselves must also document the educational progress of their students or face a “failing” label and possible closure.

The state’s pilot program is limited to 14 electronic schools offering education from kindergarten through 12th grade for the current academic year. The project was to have ended in June, but advocates successfully lobbied state lawmakers to allow the project to continue for another year.

The newly approved virtual schools are Humanities and Sciences High School; Phoenix Special Programs and Academies; Pinnacle Education Inc.; Primavera Technical Learning Center; and Sierra Vista Charter Schools Inc.