MODOC, Indiana — When Jamie Harshman entered kindergarten at the local public school here more than 20 years ago, her parents did not anticipate that she would graduate from Union School Corp., as the single school in this district has been known since it was formed in 1952. Locals have long thought that the small rural school district would eventually be shut down and absorbed by one of the neighboring districts.

After all, only a few hundred students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade were enrolled in the school, situated in this town of 190. “That impending doom has been here for a long time,” said Harshman, who now serves as the curriculum director for Union School Corp. and spends her days working from its central office.

But the fear for Union’s survival has largely disappeared since last year, when it began working with a private education corporation to open a digital school, in which kids at home join classes taught live by teachers online.That partnership with K12 Inc. has increased enrollment numbers and, as a result, the amount of state dollars they receive. But now a discussion is brewing outside of Modoc and its small school district.

Advocates call the virtual school an innovation that rescued a cash-strapped small public school and offers increasingly rare learning opportunities to rural students. Critics call it a devil’s bargain that forced a school to trade academic oversight and accountability for dollars that mostly go to a private corporation.

Students and parents, meanwhile, are left somewhere in the middle. And now the Board of Education has formed a committee to inspect the virtual schools — all of which were considered failing by state standards last year — after Gov. Read more from…

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