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Monday, January 28, 2008

Wisconsin's Virtual Schools Saved... For Now

That was the title of an article posted in one of the NACOL forums yesterday. The article read:
Wisconsin's virtual schools saved ... for now
School officials testifying at hearings made a difference.

Todd Beckmann
Sentinel News Editor

It was good news when Grantsburg Superintendent Joni Burgin picked up the phone Monday afternoon.

"Senator Luther Olsen, on the Senate Education Committee, called me on Monday and told me he and Senator Lehman had reached a compromise on the Senate Bill in the Senate Education Committee," Burgin said.

Earlier this month the Wisconsin Legislature set out to "fix" the statute regarding virtual schools after a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision last December put the future of all virtual schools in doubt.

The court ruling explained the existing statutes didn't fit what the Northern Ozaukee School District did when they opened their virtual school - the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

The so-called Lehman Bill, as proposed by Sen. John Lehman in the Senate Education Committee to fix the statute, was, in Burgin's words, a bill "for people who don't like virtual school."

The Lehman Bill is one which Burgin testified against during a hearing last week in Madison.

Insight School of Wisconsin principal Billy Beesley was a member of the Grantsburg contingent who went to Madison to oppose the Lehman Bill. Beesley and about 12 students had hoped to meet with the Governor to discuss the virtues of on-line schooling, but didn't get the chance.

While in the capital, Burgin also testified in favor of the Davis Bill.

The Davis Bill, the counterpart to the Lehman Bill, was in a hearing before author Sen. Brett Davis and the rest of the Assembly Education Committee.

The Davis Bill, a minimalist bill, just fixes the statutes to allow successful virtual schools to continue.

"I think the legislators really listened to what we had to say," Burgin said of the hearings. "Senators Lehman and Olsen met on Friday and crafted a new bill."

"I think we can all live with what they have come up with," she continued.

Beesley agreed.

We were doing things differently than the school which was sued, but I think this new bill will strengthen everybody," he said.

Olsen also told Burgin on Monday the compromise bill has the support of Sen. Davis.

"There is now a bi-partisan virtual school bill that will correct the outdated statutes and allow us to continue to operate our virtual schools. It does provide regulations but maintains funding and removed the 15 percent local attendance requirement," Burgin pointed out.

The 15 percent requirement called for that percentage of any virtual school's enrollment to be local - a restriction which would have seriously jeopardized Grantsburg's Insight School of Wisconsin.

"If all goes according to Senator Olsen's timeline, and the Governor supports the effort, the matter should be resolved by mid-February," Burgin concluded.
Now you'll notice in the article, they mention two pieces of legislation.
  1. Lehman Bill - http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2007/data/SB-396.pdf
  2. Davis Bill - http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2007/data/AB-697.pdf
So, what do these two bills actually say. [note: I've been meaning to spend some time reading both and comparing them. But I originally wrote this entry four days ago and have been sitting on it waiting to get some time to complete this so I figured today I would just post it and do the bill comparison next week sometime when I get a free moment. - MKB]

I notice today there was another item posted in the NACOL forums.
Legislators reveal new rules, to keep virtual schools open - WI

by Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Friday, January 25, 2008

Wisconsin lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan compromise Thursday that would allow virtual schools to stay online throughout the state.

The compromise comes after a December ruling by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals that said state statutes on teachers’ certification, open enrollment and charter schools were not being appropriately applied to virtual education.

The court called on legislators to regulate virtual schools in order to keep them open.

Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, said this proposal aims to allow virtual schools to operate, solidify funding sources and ensure quality of education and academic accountability.

“We know that there are families out there who are thinking about open enrollment in the next couple of weeks, and we know they’re apprehensive,” Lehman said. “We heard from many folks who are satisfied with the schools, but are apprehensive with what’s going to happen with these schools.”

Virtual schools educate nearly 3,500 Wisconsin children from kindergarten to high school. Wisconsin currently has 12 virtual charter schools in operation, and most students opted out of traditional schools because of the distance or other personal reasons, like taking advanced coursework not offered at their local school.

Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said the legislation is currently in Gov. Jim Doyle’s office for review, and lawmakers hope it will pass in both houses by Feb. 3, when enrollment in most virtual schools begins.

If passed, the legislation would also allow for a funding of nearly $6,000 for each open-enrollment student.

“We believe the particulars of the draft are going to be very satisfactory to both houses and to the governor,” Lehman said.

Last week, more than 1,000 parents and students rallied at the Capitol to keep virtual schools open, and the issue was discussed at two public hearings.

“We hope this surge in support of online public charter schools receives the blessings of legislative leadership, that this deal is not altered and that we can move forward together,” Rose Fernandez, president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, wrote in a statement.

Along with allowing schools to continue operation, the compromise would also require that teachers respond to student or parent inquiries within 24 hours and that virtual charter schools provide certified teachers for each course and create a parent advisory board to meet on a regular basis.

On the students’ side of the deal, truants who fail to respond appropriately to assignments or teacher-initiated contact within five schools days may be transferred to their home district after three incidents of truancy in a semester.

But the Wisconsin Education Association Council is questioning the funding for the program because it could “divert state funding away from school districts across Wisconsin.”

Christina Brey, WEAC communications coordinator, said the organization is currently analyzing the proposed legislation, but declined further comment.

“WEAC will analyze the bill on the basis of quality, accountability and its fiscal impact on all of the children in Wisconsin’s schools before deciding whether or not to support it,” the organization wrote Thursday.

The governor’s press office did not respond to a call seeking comment Thursday.
For other entries that I've written on this topic see:
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