A statewide moratorium on allowing virtual charter schools is set to expire Tuesday unless lawmakers decide to extend it.
The Illinois State Charter School Commission recently issued a report to the legislature about virtual charter schools, recommending an extension of the moratorium through 2016 to allow the development of guidelines.
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After a seven-month process of research and investigation, the commission determined "more rules and regulations can be promulgated to guide the creation of virtual charter schools in Illinois and the review of their proposal," said Jeanne Nowaczewski, commission executive director.
"The commission would be happy to work on those regulations and be involved in future proposals after the moratorium," she added.
Nowaczewski said some lawmakers are working to get the moratorium extended.
A proposal sponsored by Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, seeking to extend the moratorium on virtual charter schools through 2017, was approved by a committee last week and awaits a full House vote.
Currently, there are only a few virtual charter schools operating in the state.
The commission's report also recommends that local school districts should not have to consider unsolicited applications for virtual charter schools, suggesting instead that districts and the state commission should be able to issue a Request for Proposals for virtual schools. Among the recommendations is a state-funded virtual charter school that would be open to students statewide.
The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley wanted to educate students online, drawing students from school districts from Algonquin to Plainfield. That proposal was rejected by each of the area school boards.
Kaneland District 302 Superintendent Jeff Schuler, who was part of the task force that helped develop the recommendations, said it's imperative local school boards have input on any virtual charter school proposal.
"A virtual school can serve a much larger scope," Schuler said. "It's not necessarily geographically limited like a brick-and-mortar school."
Schuler said a big problem with the now-defunct Fox Valley virtual charter school proposal was that the company did not engage the local community in the process.
"Yet, it was going to draw local funds," he said. "They did not make any good faith effort to come out to the school boards and answer questions. It was clear from the get-go that they were going to appeal the local decision with the charter commission."
The company initially appealed to state education officials and later dropped the effort.
"The charter commission never actually weighed in on it because prior to their decision, the moratorium went into place," Schuler said.
Legislators then tasked the charter school commission with researching the costs and outcomes of virtual schooling, among other things.
Various groups had input on the final recommendations put forth by the commission, including a few suburban school districts, the Illinois State Board of Education, Chicago Virtual Charter School, Advance Illinois, Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Charter School Commission, Illinois Network of Charter Schools, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
"The commission had an advisory group with many different stakeholders in the virtual schooling space," Nowaczewski said. "We did what the legislature asked us to do and produced the report and recommendations by March 1."
Schuler said the report raised more questions than provided answers.
"The work that the charter commission and the task force did was really to uncover a lot of study that still needs to be done in order to really look at virtual charter schools and what set of parameters and rules they need to operate under," he said. "We need to get (those) answered before any new virtual charter schools get approved."