Online schools worry CO engaged in witchhunt

Hope Online funneled taxpayers dollars into students' private and faith-based school tuitions. Online schools worry that they will all be tarred with Hope's brush.

One failing online school in Colorado has brought scrutiny to all the online cyberschools in the state, reports The Denver Post. This has raised the ire of of online-school administrators who fear the negative publicity a recent audit will bring to the online programs.

"We really think the audit committee and whoever asked for the audit had a very definite bias against online education," said Don Wilkinson, superintendent of the Monte Vista school district, which operates the state's oldest virtual school. "I think they're looking at online programs as a whole and not looking at individual programs." The problems at Hope Co-Op Online Learning Academy are "going to hurt all of us," he said.

The school was audited after The Denver Post reported that taxpayer dollars that were intended to fund students at Hope was funneled into funding students' tuition at several private or faith-based institutions.

In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for state money to be used at private and faith-based schools.

As a result of the audit, Hope Online has been placed on probation, and is in danger of losing its accreditation by the Colorado Department of Education because students failed to take mandated state exams and are failing academically.

Online schools are such new territory that many districts across the nation are scrambling to write protocol and procedures to oversee them.

"There is no state vision for online or online education or distance learning. What the state has done is put its head in the sand and said, 'Hey, whatever happens happens.' That's why we're seeing (problems) like Hope Online," said Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.