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Article posted: 5/13/2013 5:30 AM

Unusual charter school proposal developed at breakneck speed

By Tara García Mathewson

More than 2.3 million students attend charter schools in the U.S., according to an estimate by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

That's about 6,000 schools.

And according to an estimate by Greg Richmond, executive director of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the majority of those schools are run by nonprofit boards that apply for and receive a charter.

Of the minority that hire a separate organization to run the school, Richmond said about half of them look to a nonprofit company. The other half find a for-profit operator, like K12 Inc., the company hoping to run the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley.

Richmond serves as the chairman of the authorizing commission.

He said the norm for charter management varies from state to state but in Illinois there are very few that run with nonprofit agencies who receive a charter and then hire an outside organization, for-profit or not.

Virtual Learning Solutions is the organization applying for a charter to open an online school serving students in kindergarten through grade 12 from 18 suburban school districts, ranging from Algonquin to Plainfield.

Richmond said the quick pace at which they have brought forth their proposal is uncommon.

The Virtual Learning Solutions board came together in December, incorporated as a nonprofit in January and submitted its charter school proposal in February.

The suburban school districts involved held 18 public hearings in March, for the most part, and in April passed resolutions denying charters.

Virtual Learning Solutions members forged ahead, preparing an appeal for the state charter school commission that is due by Friday. And while their application stated the first day of school would be Aug. 14, Board President Sharnell Jackson said that was always a lofty goal. She said the board actually expects to open in 2014.

The fact that they submitted a proposal just a couple months after they started discussing a school is unusual compared to similar proposals, Richmond said.

"You could work on something for three months and still have a bad plan or work on something for three months and have a good plan," Richmond said. "It is not typical for it to take three months, but the real question is: How good is the plan?"

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