[This story has been updated with additional comments]

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill that would allow a low-performing virtual charter school to add students. 

Senate Bill 392 contains a provision that would lift the maximum student enrollment cap for one of the state’s two virtual charter schools, N.C. Virtual Academy. Under the bill, the virtual charter school would be allowed to increase enrollment by 20% annually. 

Cooper vetoed S.B. 392 on Monday, July 29, and issued a brief statement explaining his rationale:

“Current law already allows the State Board of Education to lift the enrollment cap on virtual charter schools. Both schools have been low performing, raising concern about the effectiveness of this pilot. Decisions on adding more students should remain with the Board so it can measure progress and make decisions that will provide the best education for students.” 

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said it’s no surprise Cooper vetoed S.B. 392.

“Governor Cooper dislikes North Carolina’s school-choice programs and would never facilitate their expansion,” Stoops said. “It’s imperative that the General Assembly override this veto for the sake of the thousands of parents who wish to enroll their children in a virtual charter schools. 

Shortly after the veto, Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, tweeted his support for the bill.

“Expanding these education opportunities for students enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the state House to help kids learn in a setting that works best for them,” Moore wrote. “The Governor is now blocking innovative learning as well as school construction and pay raises.”

Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said enrollment numbers show more parents are choosing school choice options for their children.

“It’s disappointing that Governor Cooper continues to fight against empowering parents to put their children in an educational setting that best fits their needs,” D’Elia said.

The state has authorized two virtual charter schools as part of a pilot program — N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C. Cyber Academy. Each school enrolls more than 2,000 students. 

Only N.C. Virtual Academy would be allowed to grow under the bill; N.C. Cyber Academy is on probation after losing it’s operator in a bitter fight over management. 

The two virtual schools have been operating since the 2015 school year. Over that time, the schools have earned low marks for student performance. N.C. Virtual Academy has a “D” on its school report card and hasn’t met growth over the past two years. 

Critics of the virtual charter school argue the schools are failing students and, as a consequence, shouldn’t be allowed to grow enrollment. 

“Unproven and unaccountable education methods have no place in North Carolina,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said in a news release. “We applaud the Governor’s veto of SB 392, and hope this sends a clear message to lawmakers that our students deserve better than the broken promises made by virtual charter schools.”

Although the schools have low scores on student performance, supporters of the virtual academies say the schools take on challenging students who need the kind of alternative education they can’t find in a traditional public school.

“The veto sends a clear message to North Carolina families,” Stoops says. “The Cooper administration can and will do everything it can to limit educational options, regardless of the preferences of parents or the needs of their children.”