“This is only our first year with GCA, but I’m looking forward to our future,” said Jennifer Moore, who moved with her kids — native Georgians — to Arizona, returned last year and said she may have to move again. Cyber Academy has allowed her son and daughter to attend middle school from home, where she can help them when needed and where they would feel less upheaval if they must move again, she said. “We hope to be a GCA family for many years.”
Though it works for some students, the school, which is costing taxpayers about $80 million this year, gets low scores on the state's accountability system. The Governor's Office of Student Achievement gave it a "D" the past two years, up from an "F" in 2016, and the school got below average marks in a recent state audit. Most of the students have lagged state performance on everything from standardized tests to graduation rates.
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The commissioners voted 6-0 to extend the charter through next June, with in-depth reviews postponed until next year. They also extended the charters for two other schools — Odyssey School and Utopian Academy for the Arts. Both got higher grades than Cyber Academy.
Tom Lewis, chairman of the commission, said this will give the commission time to stabilize its leadership. One commissioner has resigned and the terms of three more on the 7-member body are ending. The governor and top lawmakers make the appointments, and two of them − Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan − have only just been sworn in, leaving House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, as the sole bridge to the past.
Also, the long-time agency director, Bonnie Holliday, recently left for a job with a charter school advocacy group, leaving an interim in charge. Decisions about charter renewals are based on a complicated vetting process that looks at academics, finances and governance, a process the current commission wasn't in a position to lead, Lewis said.
It can result in a decision to renew the charter, usually for another five years, or to end the charter, which would cut off state funding and likely lead to closure.
"I don't think it would be fair to the school or to the students to rush a decision," Lewis said.