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Our View: Serious doubts on virtual school group

On the surface, the proposal to create the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley appears as shiny as an apple on a teacher’s desk.

The nonprofit that would govern it, Virtual Learning Solutions, and the company that would provide administrative and curriculum, K12 Inc., promise to provide engaging, technology-driven education tailored to each pupil. All teachers would be credentialed and live in Illinois. Students would spend at least six hours daily on coursework and have a learning coach, likely a parent, to keep track of attendance and progress.

They have sought approval from 18 area school districts, including Sycamore District 427 and DeKalb District 428, to enroll students from their districts. Ten of them, including District 427, have rejected the proposal. District 428 board members are to vote on it Tuesday, and Superintendent Jim Briscoe said his staff also will recommend rejection. It could be because beneath the shiny skin on the apple is what could turn out to be a rotten core.

Providing a solid education for its children is the highest priority for any community and cannot be entrusted to just anyone. To say we have concerns about K12 – a for-profit, Virginia-based company with a troubling track record – is an understatement.

K12 is under investigation by the Florida Department of Education for reportedly using uncertified teachers and falsifying records to show teachers had taught students when they had not.

The NCAA no longer will accept certain credits offered by K12. And a 2012 study by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado found that only 27.7 percent of K12’s schools met federal education benchmarks in 2010-11, compared with 52 percent of public schools.

Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 representatives unsatisfactorily answered questions when those 18 districts held public hearings in March on the proposal; instead, they gave a nearly 1,100-page packet to those districts’ superintendents that purported to provide answers.

The financing of the proposed charter is of concern too: Up to $8,000 would be siphoned away from local districts for every student who attends the virtual school.

School districts are struggling financially because of decreased and late funding from the state. Although an online school that holds some promise of student success could be a viable option for some students, we have no reason to expect that can be accomplished by K12.

Why should taxpayer money go to a for-profit, out-of-state company that can’t answer in a timely fashion the most basic questions about how it would provide a compelling education for its students?

Parents should have options as to how their children are educated. Competition for students should lead to improved public schools that don’t want to lose state funding if their population declines.

We believe technology must be integrated into all education options, and realize today’s students may learn better online than in a physical classroom.

But the inability to ensure student success – combined with the disrespectful attitude and unacceptable lack of transparency Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 demonstrated toward local school districts and the questionable practices of K12 – ensures that we cannot support Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River as a valid option.

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