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Friday, January 11, 2008

Now This Is What Is Needed

This is one of the articles that will appear in the Virtual School in the News feature tomorrow, but I had to get it out today (and on its own).
Lehman proposes fix for virtual charter
By Journal Times staff
Thursday, January 10, 2008 10:43 AM CST

MADISON — The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine), is introducing legislation to permit the continued operation of so-called "virtual charter schools" in Wisconsin. The need for action was triggered by a Court of Appeals decision holding that the operation and structure of a virtual charter school run by the Northern Ozaukee School District with the Virginia-based K12, Inc. is not permitted under the state’s existing charter school and open enrollment statutes.

Lehman stated, "Our state laws need to be updated to allow parents and children to continue to have a virtual charter school option. The E-Learning Options and Accountability Act will do that."

The major provisions of Lehman’s bill include:

Clarifying state law to address the Appeals Court ruling to specifically allow school districts to charter virtual schools and enroll students from across the state regardless of the location of the chartering district.

Ensuring quality by setting minimum standards for contact between teachers and students.

Providing a per pupil funding level based on actual costs incurred for providing on-line learning.

He commented, "By setting some minimum standards for teacher contact we can preserve the innovation and self-directed study opportunities online learning provides students while ensuring quality.

Lehman’s bill will also more closely align per pupil funding provided by taxpayers to these virtual schools more closely with actual instructional costs.

He noted, "The open enrollment funding loophole currently being used by some of these charter schools ships local tax dollars for public schools to out-of-state corporations without any consideration of the actual educational costs. Virtual schools don’t have costs associated with operating a traditional brick and mortar school. We ought to protect local taxpayers by making sure we’re only paying for the actual costs of on-line instruction."

Lehman said he hopes that prompt, bipartisan action will allow this issue to be addressed prior to the close of this legislative session to avoid the need for further litigation saying, "More appeals and lawsuits only prolong the uncertainty and hurts the parents and children involved in virtual charter schools."

He concluded, "I’m hopeful that a reasonable approach addressing the issues raised by the court to allow virtual charters to operate, setting minimum standards to ensure a quality education and protecting taxpayers by aligning public funding with actual costs can be quickly enacted into law."
Now for those of you that follow this blog, you'll recall I've had a lot to say about this issue for the past month (see Problems Are Brewing in Wisconsin, Should NACOL Get Involved? and More on Virtual Schooling in Wisconsin).

For those who have been following along, you'll know that what is being described in this news item is exactly the response I have been arguing in favour of. To quote from the entry on Should NACOL Get Involved?:
I would encourage the legislature to amend the funding formula to reflect the reality of this form of virtual schooling. By this I mean add a provision so that virtual schools where parents are required to perform the role of teachers receive a smaller per student allocation because the licensed teachers of the school are only doing a percentage of the work that would be done by a brick and mortar (or even traditional virtual school model that has developed in most states).

And this is where NACOL should invest its energies in my opinion, lobby the legislature to make these changes and not standing up for a virtual school simply because it is a virtual school.
I know that the legislature has the common sense to pass this legislation and pass it quickly. I'm also quite pleased with the fact that this legislation appears to include a different funding formula for virtual charter schools and specific requirements for teachers. And I'm not sure if NACOL was involved in the lobbying that took place, but if they were my hats off to them for this result.

Simply put, this is the best of both worlds - as it allows students for whom this form of education is working to avail themselves of it, but still addresses the very real and legitimate concerns raised by the recent appeals court decision.

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