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State House OKs moratorium on virtual schooling

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation to put a one-year hold on the creation of new online charter schools has cleared the Illinois House.

The state House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would amend the state’s charter school law, putting a moratorium in place until April 1, 2014, “on the establishment of charter schools with virtual-schooling components” in most public school districts statewide.

The vote was 80-36. The bill now moves on to the state Senate.

The legislation also directs Illinois’ State Charter School Commission to use that time to craft “a report on the effect of virtual-schooling,” which would include evaluating student performance, online charter school costs and “issues with oversight.”

Lawmakers also directed the commission to “include policy recommendations for virtual-schooling.”

The legislation was introduced by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, a week ago.

The legislation quickly gained support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including state Reps. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville.

The legislation came in response to a proposal from Virtual Learning Solutions to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley.

The online school was proposed to include students from 18 school districts in DeKalb, Kane, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties, and would be funded by local school district funds, estimated at up to $8,000 a student.

Seventeen of the 18 school districts had rejected the proposal before the House voted on it, and the last district, Valley View School District 365U, was scheduled to vote on it Wednesday night.

In DeKalb County, both DeKalb School District 428 and Sycamore School District 427 rejected the proposal.

Without a moratorium, Virtual Learning Solutions can appeal those decisions to the State Charter School Commission.

Lawmakers supporting the moratorium said they had concerns over a lack of regulation to govern virtual schools.

Pritchard applauded the bill’s passage in the House, and said he believed the pause was needed to give time to “clarify standards” for virtual charter schools and investigate how much Virtual Learning Solutions proposed to charge per student.

Despite those concerns, Pritchard said he and other supporters of the moratorium were not opposed to the concept of online charter schools.

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