D302, other school districts say no to charter schools

By on May 9, 2013

by Mary Parrilli
KANELAND—The Kaneland School Board on April 8 voted unanimously in favor to deny the online charter school application from Virtual Learning Solutions, the nonprofit corporation in charge of opening the school.

The school was to be named Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley (ILVCS@FRV), and the application was extended to Kaneland and the 17 surrounding school districts. Subsequently, the remaining 17 districts voted to deny the application, as well.

The charter school was set to open this fall. According to its mission statement, the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley will “provide an individualized education plan for each of K-12 students in the Fox River Valley, based upon proven best practices. Delivered online and offline, this unique program will put public school accountability, teacher competence, and meaningful parent involvement at the center of student learning.”

The charter school would be funded by taxpayers, with no tuition cost or admission criteria—all students are welcome. The charter would operate much like a regular public school, with standardized tests, a common core curriculum and daily classes.

The company K12 was contracted to manage ILVCS@FRV. K12 is a for-profit “technology-based” education company out of Virginia that is one of the largest companies of its kind.

The company sent a member of its team, John McMurray, to present a proposal to the Kaneland School Board on March 18. McMurray explained to the board that the estimated cost for the first year was $8,000 per student, estimating the charter school would have approximately 500 enrollees in the first year (which adds up to $4 million). Therefore, the local school district would be required by law to allocate $8,000 per student enrolled in the online charter to K12.

During the March 18 meeting, School Board member Joe Oberweis asked McMurray to clear up the claims that the charter schools are failing, as well as an incident in Pennsylvania in which K12 was accused of fraud. McMurray said he knew nothing of the claims, and that he would get back to the School Board on the issue.

Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler said that K12 wasn’t providing the board with enough “real information”—statistics. Schuler said he couldn’t understand why someone would make a proposal without having definitive answers.

McMurray, during his presentation, couldn’t name the graduation rate of K12 schools, even the school that he worked at in Pennsylvania. Oberweis asked if McMurray could state how many seniors were enrolled in the Pennsylvania school, and McMurray again failed to provide a definitive answer. McMurray said that K12 doesn’t collect an aggregate number tracking the graduation rate of their schools. Oberweis then asked Schuler the same questions regarding Kaneland student population, to which the superintendent immediately provided specific numbers.

McMurray told the board that all of its questions would be answered prior to the vote date, set to take place on April 8. Kaneland then submitted its questions via email. K12 on April 6 emailed Schuler a 1,100-page document.

Two nights later, Schuler shared details of the document with the School Board
“I read over portions of the document, and it reminds me of the proposal—very unorganized. In essence, our questions have not been answered,” Schuler said.

Oberweis said that the only possible explanation for K12’s presentation is that the company was just going through the hoops because it knew that the charter commission could, or would, overturn the districts’ decisions.

“I don’t understand why a business would make such a half-witted attempt otherwise,” he said.

“(K12) was just going through the motions,” School Board President Cheryl Krauspe said. “The real story here, after all the districts decline their application, is the appeal process with the (Illinois Charter School Commission). K12 spends a lot of money in lobbying, so who knows what is going on downstate.”

It is currently unclear whether Virtual Learning Solutions plans to file an appeal with the Charter Commission. Schuler on Tuesday said he expects to get a definitive answer on the matter next week.

State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat from Aurora, recently introduced legislation that would place a one-year moratorium on all online, web-based charter schools. The bill has passed in the Illinois House of Representatives, and is, as of Tuesday, on the senate floor. If Virtual Learning Solutions appeals the ruling, and the Charter Commission decides to overturn the districts’ votes—and the moratorium does not pass—school districts have the option to file their own appeal.

Oberweis said he doesn’t have a strong opinion about charter schools, and always supports competition in the marketplace, especially competition to “improve government services.”

“I am a free-market economist at heart. I don’t think that (K12) is out for the interest of the kids, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to correct that. They didn’t,” Oberweis said. “I’m wondering why a business needs to take public money. If it’s really as good as it says it is, why not just use private capital? My main problem with this situation was the funding mechanism. It needs to change.”