The state’s education leaders said they are looking into strategies to help virtual charters improve performance

Idaho officials troubled by news that the state’s high school graduation rate is much lower than previously thought have identified where the problem is occurring: At the state’s “virtual” charter schools and alternative schools.

The graduation rate for Idaho’s state-authorized virtual charter schools is just 20 percent. For alternative schools in Idaho school districts, which serve students at risk for educational failure in regular junior high or high schools, the graduation rate is 36 percent, the state board reported to lawmakers.

“The bad news is that alternative schools and virtual schools have very low graduation rates, which drag down the overall state average,” state Board of Education President Don Soltman told lawmakers.

“The good news is that for students attending regular schools or charter schools … actually 88 percent and 91 percent” graduate.

“This analysis provides the board direction to investigate strategies to help these low-graduating populations improve,” Soltman told the Legislature’s joint budget committee, kicking off a week of education budget hearings.

Students in virtual charter schools receive their education online, rather than in person. Idaho authorizes and pays for an array of them as options for families.

Some of Idaho’s state-authorized virtual charter schools specifically target at-risk, minority or under-served students, and some were set up locally. The largest, Idaho Virtual Academy, uses a curriculum developed by a national, for-profit education company and targets the general population. That virtual charter school has 2,237 Idaho students, according to the state Department of Education.

Next page: Lawmaker reaction to the reported graduation rate

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