Thursday, April 25, 2013

Probably Not the Letter They Expected

My local school district sent the following plea this morning. Their information did prompt me to write my state Senator, but I'm guessing the district won't be pleased with the content of my thoughts. I've copied my letter after the district note.

Dear District 204 Community,
We need your help. You may have seen in the news that 18 school districts in the area received a proposal from Virtual Learning Solutions to operate an online charter school in all 18 districts. District 204 was included in this proposal. The online school would be open to students in kindergarten through grade 12. Funding for the online school would come directly from state dollars that normally go to fund our districts. We find this problematic at a time when state education funding is challenging at best. The proposal calls for Virtual Learning Solutions to receive $8,000 in state funding for every District 204 student who enrolls in the online school. If the student drops out of the online school and wants to return to District 204, the funds remain with Virtual Learning Solutions.
In addition to a loss in state funding, there are also serious concerns about K12 Inc., the for-profit company that is contracted to run the online charter school. At a public hearing in March, our Board of Education questioned a representative from K12 Inc. Based on K12 Inc.'s responses at that hearing, we have concerns about the online school's curriculum, quality of teachers, support for students with special needs, low test scores, lack of extra-curricular opportunities, and graduation rate. 
In Illinois, charter schools must be approved by local school boards. If they are not approved, the charter school can appeal to the Charter School Commission, which is operated by the Illinois State Board of Education. Although all 18 local school boards voted down the proposal, Virtual Learning Solutions has said it will appeal the decision with the Charter School Commission. The Commission may supersede local control and overturn the decisions made by local school boards.
Legislators in Springfield have already started the process of placing a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual schools through House Bill 494. If passed and signed into law, this bill would allow Springfield to study and gather as much information as possible before approving these controversial online schools.
HB 494 has already passed the House and is expected to be voted on by the Senate very soon. This is where we need your help. We are asking parents to call Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and your state senator to ask them to support HB 494. If you decide to email your senator, a suggested message is below.  
You can find your state senator's contact information online  where you can enter your home address and you'll get a list of your elected representatives. District 204 is served by four state senators: Linda Holmes, Mike Connelly, Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, and Jim Oberweis. You can call Senate President John Cullerton at 217-782-2728.
It's not that we don't support online education; it's that we don't believe that the for-profit K12 Inc. and Virtual Learning Solutions provide a better educational opportunity for our students.
Thank you for your support.
Kathryn Birkett, Ed.D.
Sample message to send to your Illinois State Senator:
As a constituent in your district, I'm asking that you support HB 494, which proposes a one-year moratorium on creating new virtual charter schools in Illinois. Time is needed to investigate the effect of virtual charter schools, including evaluating student performance, online charter school costs, and regulation governing virtual charter schools. As a taxpayer, I'm concerned about state funding being diverted from my local school district to pay for students to attend a virtual charter school. I'm also concerned about the quality of the education and level of support provided to students who would attend a virtual charter school. Please support HB 494 so that we can assure students in our community are best served. 
Members of the Illinois State Senate serving District 204:
Linda Holmes, 42nd District,
Mike Connelly, 21st District,
Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, 49th District,
Jim Oberweis, 25th District,

Dear Senator Connelly:

As a home educator, I'm asking that you vote no on HB 494, which proposes a one-year moratorium on creating new virtual charter schools in Illinois.  As a taxpayer, I'm concerned about state funding being tied to local school districts rather than following the student. Parents know best what will fit their child and education is not one size fits all. I'm also concerned about the quality of the education and level of support provided to students in schools that face no effective competition. Please vote no on HB 494 so that we can assure students in our community can choose options that are right for their family. 


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