Fox Valley virtual charter would be the first of its kind in state
By Kalyn Belsha firstname.lastname@example.org March 14, 2013 4:22PM
Forum on charter
Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice is hosting a community forum Sunday about the virtual charter school proposal.
The meeting will be from 2 to 5 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Geneva, at 321 Hamilton St. For more information contact John Laesch at 630-878-7454 or email@example.com.
Updated: April 16, 2013 4:08PM
As 18 school districts in the Fox Valley region prepare to make a decision about a proposed virtual charter that would serve their students, school officials are trying to figure out just how such a multi-district online charter — which would be the first of its kind in Illinois — would work.
The St. Charles-based nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions has proposed to open a charter school this fall that would provide web-based lessons to local students in kindergarten to 12th grade. K12, a for-profit online education company based in Virginia that operates dozens of online schools across the country, would provide the curriculum and day-to-day management. Virtual Learning Solutions would oversee K12.
The 18 districts, which include East Aurora, West Aurora, Indian Prairie, Oswego, Naperville and Elgin U-46, are holding public meetings this month about the charter proposal. But from there, there are many possible outcomes.
After the meeting, school boards have 30 days to decide if they will approve or deny the proposal, in which case the charter school’s governing board would appeal the decision to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which was created by the state legislature in 2011 to review and resolve appeals.
There’s also a third option: All 18 schools can get together and decide to let the State Charter School Commission decide what to do, due to the complexity of administering the charter together.
“The Commission would review it as a new proposal and apply our usual procedures and take 75 days to investigate the proposal and provide a decision,” Jeanne Nowaczewski, the state commission’s executive director, wrote in an e-mail.
Virtual Learning Solutions’ President Sharnell Jackson said she hoped if the decision was left to the commission that the charter school would end up dealing with only one boss.
“I would hope they’d do this in a very effective and efficient way,” Jackson said. “That’s a decision for (the commission) to make. Will it be interesting to have 18? Yes, it would.”
In Illinois, there are no other multi-district charter schools on this scale.
In 2011, 11 districts in the Decatur area were asked to establish a brick-and-mortar charter high school. But all 11 districts struck down the proposal, citing a lack of demand and the desire not to lose student-based funding.
Nationwide, there are other large-scale multi-district online charter schools, though the laws governing enrollment and funding vary widely from state-to-state, according to the International Associate for K-12 Online Learning, a Virginia-based nonprofit that supports online teaching and learning.
“The funding of multi-district programs tends to be more complicated than that of single district programs,” the nonprofit explained on its website.
In the Fox Valley, if all 18 districts approve the proposal, they’d have to sign one big contract together, or 18 separate contracts, Nowaczewski said. Each district would likely negotiate with the virtual charter school to determine how much money they’d have to shell out for each child who attends the charter, which bills itself as an alternative learning option for students who would prefer to learn outside the traditional classroom.
The state mandates that charters receive 75 to 125 percent of what a school normally would have spent per student. Already, some districts, like West Aurora and Kaneland, have raised questions about the loss of student funding to the charter.
K12, which manages multi-district and multi-county online charters in states such as Colorado and California, says there are challenges to the multi-district approach “but they aren’t insurmountable.”
“It’s most effective when… a cooperative relationship exists between the school and the students’ resident districts to do what is best for the children,” Jeff Kwitowski, a K12 spokesman said.