...could be found in the Colorado desert:
BRANSON, Colo. - With no grocery store or gas station and a population of 77 souls, this desert village seems an unlikely home for a fast-growing public school that has enrolled students from all across Colorado.
There are just 65 students attending Branson's lone brick and mortar school, but there are an additional 1,000 enrolled in its online affiliate. And with the state paying school districts $5,600 per pupil, Branson Online has been a bonanza. Founded in 2001, it has received $15 million so far.
And right on cue, the education establishment is there to make trouble:
The school district has used the money to hire everyone in town who wants a job, including the mayor, who teaches 15 students via e-mail. It has broadcast radio commercials statewide to recruit students and built a new headquarters here. But if the school has been financially successful, its academic record is mixed, and the authorities have put the school on academic probation.
Branson Online is one of at least 100 Internet-based public schools that local educators have founded nationwide in recent years, often in partnership with private companies, and many online schools share Branson's strengths and weaknesses, experts said.
The federal Department of Education does not keep track of enrollment numbers, but in a January report the department noted the emergence of scores of online public schools and said they were experiencing "explosive growth."
"Cyberschools are the 800-pound gorilla of the choice movement, although vouchers and charter schools get a lot more attention," said William Moloney, education commissioner in Colorado, where state financing for online schools has increased almost 20-fold in five years - to $20.2 million for 3,585 students today from $1.1 million for 166 full-time students in 2000.
....But the schools are beginning to draw scrutiny. ....
A report on online schools nationwide, issued last May by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit group based in Illinois, concluded that states should monitor the academic and other performance of Internet schools more closely. "The rapid expansion of K-12 online learning threatens to outpace the development of appropriate state-level policies," it said.
Several Colorado superintendents have criticized Branson Online for enrolling their students, thereby taking money away from their districts. Others just say the quality of the education is questionable. Glenn Davis, superintendent of the Huerfano School District in Walsenburg, said that although he had lost a few students to Branson his main concern was that online schools had become magnets for low-achieving students.
Looks like the hicks in the sticks might have something Mayor Mike should look into.