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State should not hold back virtual schools

Legislature’s moratorium plan ill-advised

Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – The most startling thing about being a parent for me is how remarkably different each of my three daughters is.

It’s as if each was born with a distinct personality.

And while they are all bright girls, they learn in distinctly different ways. 

No child is the same. 

That’s why I was so disheartened to see the Illinois House Education Committee vote last week to approve House Bill 494, which puts a 3-year moratorium on creating virtual charter schools. The bill’s sponsor has since backpedaled from such a long moratorium and has amended it to make it a 1-year moratorium. 

But why have a moratorium at all?

After all, some kids just learn better in an online environment. And others learn better in a classroom. 

Parents should be able to weigh the options and decide what’s best for their children.

But instead, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and an assortment of suburban school districts lobbied hard for the moratorium.

It all comes down to money. The traditional model for schools is extraordinarily labor-intensive with its assortment of teachers and support staff. 

Unions fear a move away from that type of model will result in fewer jobs for teachers, which means fewer dues-paying members for unions. 

School districts get their money in part based on how many students they have attending, so they fear that virtual schools will siphon away students  – and dollars – from their districts. 

But what about the kids? 

Virtual schools provide an excellent opportunity for certain students to learn.

Students who have been targets of bullies often find an online setting a much easier place to learn. 

For families who travel frequently, online options allow for greater continuity in a child’s education. 

There are a host of reasons why a parent might opt for this option for their child. 

And that’s the bottom line: It should be the parent’s choice, not local or state government’s.   

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, said the moratorium is needed so the Illinois General Assembly can take more time to understand the impact of digital schools.

“We need to really analyze this and make sure it’s the best thing for the kids in the state of Illinois,” Chapa LaVia said.  

But here’s the deal; nowhere in the bill does Chapa LaVia call for a study or an in-depth analysis. 

She just calls for a moratorium. 

“There are students this fits perfectly for,” she said at the committee meeting.

“And this is what I’m saying. We need to put the brakes on so we can put the right statutes in place to allow parents to utilize these schools.”

But still, a 1-year moratorium would delay opportunity and choice for students.

Please keep in mind that virtual schools already must comply with state curriculum standards, students must take the same tests as youngsters attending traditional schools, and virtual schools have to comply with No Child Left Behind criteria.   

So it’s not as if those schools are without oversight. 

“This is a new world of technology, and why we would limit our children’s potential for success by not being able to adapt to technology is beyond me,” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t look for every opportunity to educate our children.”

Virtual charter schools already are operating in Chicago and have proved an excellent alternative for at-risk students who might otherwise drop out of school.

But it’s not just for at-risk kids.

“My son takes a virtual class,” said state Rep. Pam Roth, R-Morris.

“I’m telling you, he likes the class because it’s stimulating and challenging.

“Virtual school can help those having trouble fitting in. They can stay home and have a different set of friends that aren’t from a classroom. It’s an opportunity for them to find another way.

“In my son’s case, he’s gifted and gets bored to tears in classroom. Virtual schools can be a way to challenge and help gifted students.”

Note to readers – Scott Reeder’s column is underwritten by the Illinois Policy Institute.

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