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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2002

Online charter school receives OK for 1st phase

An online charter school with ties to a former U.S. Secretary of Education received its first phase of approval yesterday from the University of Toledo Charter School Council.

The panel also denied a re-application from a group that failed to have its contract approved last year despite receiving - and spending - $50,000 in state start-up funds.

The council approved the first of a three-step application process for the Ohio Virtual Charter School. With local educators as part of its leadership, the Internet-based school uses curriculum developed by K12, Inc., a McLean, Va.-based education company founded by William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education.

Ohio Virtual Charter School would provide computers and instructional materials, including software, books, art supplies, and maps, to students. It would have 12 regular and two special-education teachers overseeing 600 students its first year, according to the proposal presented.

“Our hope is that it will create a model for 21st century public schools,” said Molly Bernhardt, an instructor in early childhood education at Owens Community College who is part of the virtual school's founding coalition.

If approved, it would become Ohio's third online school. The university council last year granted a charter to the Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy, linked to the for-profit White Hat Ventures of Akron.

Lucas County Educational Service Center sponsored the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online school criticized in an audit by Ohio Auditor Jim Petro last year for overbilling the state $1.7 million during a two-month period.

The council rejected the application of sisters Cheryl and Sonja Wilson, who planned the Wilson Education Beginnings Academy, or WEB Academy, based on the direct instruction curriculum. Used in a few Toledo Public Schools, the method focuses on recitation and drilling, especially in the younger grades.

“We're not saying we can fix things overnight. What we're proposing is to implement a program that has already been proven,” Cheryl Wilson told the council.

Council Chairwoman Mary Jo Waldock, interim dean of university college at University of Toledo, said WEB's application had governance and finance inadequacies.

The Wilsons declined to comment about the rejection.

In August, shortly after their first application was rejected in the third and final stage, they said the $50,000 from the state was used for legal fees, administrative costs, a down payment on rent for school space, and other costs.

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