Illinois lawmakers push to keep kids and education from 21st century learning
by Ted Dabrowski* With a bill that blocks the authorization of any new virtual charter schools, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, aims to slow Illinois’ move into the 21st century. Her law, House Bill 494, calls for a one-year moratorium “on the establishment of charter schools with virtual-schooling components in school districts other than [Chicago...
by Ted Dabrowski*
With a bill that blocks the authorization of any new virtual charter schools, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, aims to slow Illinois’ move into the 21st century.
Her law, House Bill 494, calls for a one-year moratorium “on the establishment of charter schools with virtual-schooling components in school districts other than [Chicago School District 299].” That means any new charter school intending to use virtual learning in downstate or suburban Illinois won’t be able to open its doors.
The practical effect of the law, however, is to ban all new charter schools.
Almost every school uses virtual learning to supplement its curriculum. Whether it’s a Khan Academy video for algebra or a K12 Inc. module for Chinese, schools across the nation are using virtual learning to deliver student-centered education.
The other effect of HB 494 is to discriminate against Illinois’ downstate and suburban children – HB 494 specifically excludes Chicago from the moratorium.
Downstate and suburban areas have already been left out of the charter movement because the state’s historical charter approval process blocked opportunities for more charter schools.
Prior to the creation of the Illinois State Charter School Commission in 2011, potential charter schools had to seek the approval of the local school district in which they would operate. Districts almost always denied these requests, leaving few charter schools outside Chicago’s borders.
Chapa LaVia’s bill simply makes a bad situation worse.
Downstate and suburban Illinois: unchartered territory
In downstate and suburban Illinois, a mere 15 charter schools are available to nearly 1.7 million potential students. Only 3,500 Illinois children attend charter schools outside of Chicago.
That compares poorly to Chicago, where nearly one out of every eight students now learns in a charter school. More than 45,000 students attend 110 schools across the city – and thousands more are on waiting lists.
If Illinois’ downstate and suburban students attended charter schools at the same rate as Chicago students, more than 200,000 students would be enrolled in these schools of choice.
Percent of student population enrolled in charter schools, FY 2011
But don’t be too quick to conclude that there’s less demand for charter schools outside of big cities.
Indiana has more than 40 charter schools outside of Indianapolis. Wisconsin has 159 charter schools outside of Milwaukee. And Michigan has 193 charter schools outside of Detroit. If these states serve as a guide, there is significantly more demand for alternative schooling options in non-urban areas in downstate and suburban Illinois.
Number of schools in major metro city vs. rest of the state, FY 2011
It is wrong for legislators to delay the establishment of new charter schools in downstate and suburban Illinois when the region has been deprived of charter schools for so long. Meanwhile, nearby states are significantly expanding their charter school offerings, leaving Illinois behind.
The facts matter
Proponents of HB 494 claim that more studies on virtual schooling are needed before the state allows charter schools to utilize it. In particular, the bill calls for the Illinois State Charter School Commission to author:
“A report on the effect of virtual-schooling, including without limitation the effect on student performance, the costs associated with virtual-schooling, and issues with oversight. The report will include policy recommendations for virtual schooling.”
But here are the facts:
- Virtual learning already exists throughout Illinois. In fact, the Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, runs the Illinois Virtual School, or IVS, a statewide virtual school that offers more than 126 courses and 23 AP classes to many of Illinois’ public school students.
In its most recent report to the state legislature, the IVS board reported that the school had nearly 3,200 course enrollments in 2012 and course completion rates of 89 to 97 percent over the past two years.
- The Chicago Public Schools board has already approved two charter schools that rely heavily on virtual learning. The Chicago Virtual Charter School offers a K-12 curriculum and the Youth Connection Charter School serves at-risk students.
- The approval, funding and evaluation processes that the bill calls for already exist for virtual charter schools. For example, a virtual charter school must meet the same guidelines other charter schools are required to meet to get their charter approved. Its students must meet state standards on the ISAT and PSAE tests, and it will be funded like the other multidistrict charter schools in the state – Prairie Crossing Charter School, which operates in Fremont School District 79 and Woodland School District 50.
It’s ironic that Chapa LaVia and supporters of HB 494 are seeking to delay virtual learning when the state, through its own State Board of Education, runs one of the largest virtual schools in Illinois.
No reasons to block innovation and opportunity
There is simply no reason to impede the already-existing charter school authorization process that’s in place today.
There are many reasons, though, to support an increase in online learning to spark innovation and opportunity for children across the state. Some of those reasons are outlined in the ISBE/IVS report to the Illinois General Assembly:
- An opportunity for students to take courses not offered by their face-to-face school, such as AP, foreign languages and other enrichment opportunities.
- Flexibility in scheduling.
- Credit recovery options for students to graduate on time.
- Individualized instruction that occurs anytime, anywhere and any pace through teacher managed courses.
HB 494 aims to keep Illinois in the dark. Its message to the rest of the nation is that Illinois is not ready to embrace the technology that is changing how the world operates.
And worst of all, it’s shutting down a world of opportunity for the children in our state. HB 494 mustn’t be allowed to pass.
*Ted Dabrowski is a volunteer board member of Virtual Learning Solutions, or VLS, a nonprofit entity looking to establish a virtual school in Illinois. Earlier this year, VLS submitted a multi-charter school application to 18 school districts in the Fox River Valley and those applications were subsequently rejected. VLS has appealed those decisions to the Illinois State Charter School Commission for further consideration.