No suburban virtual charter school, for now

Nonprofit drops appeal due to moratorium, may try next year

There will be no multidistrict virtual charter school serving suburban students next year.

A controversial push to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley in August ended during Tuesday’s state charter school commission meeting, barely 24 hours after the applicants withdrew their pending appeals in a surprise change of course.

School boards in 18 districts from Algonquin to Plainfield refused to grant a charter to Virtual Learning Solutions, a fledgling nonprofit that formed last winter to apply for the school. The applicants appealed to the state commission for a second opinion, launching a process that was expected to wrap up in late July after public hearings and interviews by commissioners.

Then, on May 24, Gov. Pat Quinn approved a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual charter schools, throwing the appeal process into limbo.

The applicants spent the last few weeks arguing the moratorium didn’t specifically address pending appeals, like the ones it had in progress. School districts, in the meantime, argued the legislation froze the commission’s authority to authorize new virtual charter schools.

On Friday, after reviewing the law and more than a dozen legal briefs from the districts and the applicants, State Charter School Commission Executive Director Jeanne Nowaczewski recommended denying the appeals, concluding that approval of the virtual school would violate the moratorium.

But before commissioners could take that vote, Virtual Learning Solutions board members reversed course.

Ted Dabrowski, a Wilmette resident who works as vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, took over as president of Virtual Learning Solutions when Sharnell Jackson resigned the week the moratorium became law. He said Monday it was “obvious” the one-year moratorium required his group’s project be put on hold.

“We’ve decided to withdraw the appeal, and of course we’ll wait for clarity from the state charter commission,” Dabrowski said. “Hopefully the parameters for creating a school such as the one we’ve discussed will be precise and clear.”

During the one-year moratorium, the state charter school commission has been tasked with preparing a report for the legislature identifying those parameters.

The commission approved a plan Tuesday that called for creation of an advisory council by Aug. 1 that will include commissioners, Illinois school district officials, virtual learning providers, charter sector representatives, state board of education officials and virtual learning experts from local, state and national groups. The report — due by March 1 — will include sections on the value of virtual learning, student performance in virtual schools and financing of such schools. It also will address concerns for monitoring virtual charter schools as well as create a methodology for dealing with multidistrict virtual charter schools, like the one proposed along the Fox Valley.

According to the plan, the study will incorporate policy recommendations and create guiding documents for the commission as it considers future appeals.

Dabrowski said Virtual Learning Solutions will wait to see how the virtual charter school landscape changes before replacing Jackson and John Rico, who resigned in April. The three-member board still includes Naperville businessman Mike Skarr and Chicago political communications consultant Eric Kohn. The group will have until next spring to decide if it wants to take another stab at opening a virtual charter school in the Fox Valley or elsewhere.

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