Court sides with proposed cyber charter backed by K12 Inc.

After a four-year battle, backers of a proposed cyber charter school moved closer to opening what would be Pennsylvania's 15th school that provides online instruction to students in their homes.

Commonwealth Court on Thursday overturned a ruling by the state Charter Appeal Board that had denied an operating agreement for the proposed Insight PA Cyber Charter School on the ground that its for-profit management firm, K12 Inc., would be effectively running the school rather than Insight’s nonprofit board.

The court disputed that finding and ordered the appeals board to direct the state Department of Education to issue a five-year charter to Insight.

“We are very pleased with the result,” said Alan C. Kessler, an attorney from Duane Morris who represents Insight. “We think the decision was well-written, well-reasoned and, more importantly, right.”

He declined further comment.

It was not clear whether the Education Department would appeal to the state Supreme Court. A department spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Insight and its partner, K12, had applied to the department for permission to launch the cyber in 2014. The application said K12, an education and management company based in Herndon, Va., would provide the curriculum, educational materials, and management services.

State law permits cyber charters to contract with for-profit companies to provide management, curriculum, and technology services, but cybers must be overseen by independent trustees.

The department denied the application, and Insight took the case to the charter appeal board in 2015.

Although the appeals board rejected some of the reasons the department gave for its denial, it agreed that K12’s contract would limit the authority of Insight’s board of trustees and turned down the appeal.

Insight challenged the decision in Commonwealth Court.

In a 38-page opinion issued Thursday, Judge P. Kevin Brobson wrote: “There is no evidence in the record of this case that Insight’s board lacks independence from K12.”

Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove disagreed. In a dissenting opinion, he said that Insight’s board would not have the authority over Insight’s staff required by state law.

More than 35,000 students are enrolled in cybers.

No cyber school met the state’s academic benchmarks last year.

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