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Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, tours exhibits at the annual FFA national convention in Indianapolis.

Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, tours exhibits at the annual FFA national convention in Indianapolis.

Shaina Cavazos/Chalkbeat

Here’s what Betsy DeVos has to say about Indiana’s failing virtual schools

Days after Indiana officials unveiled recommendations for addressing the state’s  chronically failing but fast-growing virtual charter schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a longtime supporter of online schools  — reiterated her support for families having educational options.

“I applaud Indiana for the progress that they’ve made in ensuring that families are empowered to make the right decision,” she told Chalkbeat Friday after touring exhibits at the annual convention in Indianapolis for the National FFA Organization, previously known as Future Farmers of America.

DeVos said the state is responsible for ensuring online schools are “meeting the needs of the students, the families, and the taxpayers of that state.”

When asked what she thinks about 12,000 Indiana students attending failing virtual schools, DeVos said, “We want all students to receive a quality education.”

Earlier this week, a committee of Indiana State Board of Education members recommended a package of policy changes that would overhaul how online charter schools operate in the state. The changes included adding more oversight, reducing a financial incentive for the groups that monitor virtual charter schools, limiting how quickly schools can grow their enrollment, and keeping more kids from going to the schools if they continue to post poor academic results.

Gov. Eric Holcomb urged the state board to look into such changes late last year, but Holcomb “is still reviewing the recommendations,” his spokeswoman said in an email Friday. The proposal is expected to be presented to the full board next month.

Virtual charter schools garnered national attention this month after two Democratic senators called for federal officials to launch an investigation into the recruiting practices of online schools and student participation, as well as their low student-to-teacher ratios and lack of financial transparency.

DeVos has a history of supporting online charter schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12 Inc., which operates two virtual charter schools in Indiana. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

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