SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico education authorities are cutting off authorization and funding for the largest online charter school in the state in response to lagging academic performance among students.

A request by New Mexico Connections Academy to renew its charter for the coming school year has been voted down by the Public Education Commission that oversees charter schools across the state. The Santa Fe-based virtual charter school provides online lessons to more than 1,300 students across the state in grades 4-12.

Commission Chairwoman Patricia Gipson voted against extending the school’s charter, saying it failed to make adequate or substantial annual progress in improving academic performance.

The New Mexico Department of Education says that student proficiency rates in math dropped to 11 percent in 2017 and has given the school’s overall performance an “F” grade for two consecutive years. The agency opposed renewal of the school’s charter.

Representatives for New Mexico Connections Academy could not be reached Monday for comment. The school contracts with the for-profit education curriculum provider Connections Education, owned by parent company Pearson.

The school has the right to appeal the Public Education Commission’s decision to the Secretary of Education. It also could seek to reorganize under the authority of a local school district. Without a new or renewed charter, it would be forced to close, Gipson said.

Education Commission member said that officials from New Mexico Connections Academy acknowledged at a public meeting last week that the school’s enrollment had grown too fast since its creation in 2012.

Education Commissioner Tim Crone said particular attention was paid the school’s failure to improve performance among students who struggle the most academically.

“We pay special attention to the lowest quartile, and Connections was not doing very well in that area,” he said.

Across the state, enrollment at virtual charter schools, in which students receive all of their instruction online without a classroom, has grown from about 490 students in 2012 to about 2,150 currently.

Two other virtual charter schools operate in New Mexico, with headquarters in Farmington and Carlsbad. Students are spread across every county in the state.

Nationwide, enrollment in e-schools has tripled over the past decade, reaching some 278,000 students in the 2015-2016 year, according to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

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MORGAN LEE
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