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updated: 3/19/2013 12:58 AM

Online charter school no-go in u-46?

U-46 school board members express concerns, doubt ahead of April vote

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Representatives of the Elgin Teachers Association, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, and League of Women Voters of Illinois all urged Elgin Area School District U-46 board members to reject a proposal for a virtual charter school in the Fox Valley during a public hearing Monday.

The district's charter school evaluation committee, made up of a dozen school administrators, also recommended denial of the charter proposal, saying it does not meet the definition of a charter school in Illinois, which requires that the school not be home-based.

The committee report also notes the charter school application is vague or incomplete in the areas of student enrollment, how it will serve at-risk youths and how it will ensure attendance.

A handful of district residents, several of them teachers, also spoke in opposition to the charter school at the public hearing about the Illinois Virtual Academy at Fox River Valley, which hopes to open in August to students across 18 districts in the region.

The opposition followed a presentation by Sharnell Jackson, president of the board of directors for Virtual Learning Solutions -- which plans to open the charter school -- as well as Stephanie Hargens, a representative of K12 Inc., which will effectively run the school as the contracted vendor for curriculum and teacher staffing.

In its recommendation to the board, the U-46 committee also listed reservations about K12 Inc., referencing a troubling track record in other states.

Before public comment, the two charter school representatives faced a battery of questions from a board that appeared unanimously skeptical of the proposal. They are expected to officially vote on it April 8.

Much of the concern over the virtual academy proposal comes from the fact that public dollars will follow the students who choose it.

"We cannot afford to divert dollars to an organization that is failing to show educational gains, that spends money on corporate salaries and has commitments only to shareholders," said Kathryn Castle, president of the Elgin Teachers Association. "All of our support and resources deserves to be focused on our public classrooms."

Three community members did speak in support of opening the charter school as a valid option for parents and students and as an opportunity to create competition with U-46 and perhaps improve the quality of education in the district.

Lennie Jarratt, representing For Our Children's Future, which has a goal of making sure every child has access to quality education, said the charter school could help students.

"I would encourage you to give them that option and give them that chance to learn," Jarratt said.

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