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State moratorium could halt Fox River Valley virtual school

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley will be delayed for a year if Gov. Pat Quinn signs into law a moratorium on charter schools like it.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed House Bill 494, which would put a moratorium on the creation of new virtual charter schools until April 1. The Illinois State Charter School Commission also would be required to produce a report on the viability of online charter schools in the state.

The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley is currently before the state commission, after 18 school districts – including in DeKalb and Sycamore – rejected its proposals.

The school was proposed by the nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions. Local districts’ funds – estimated at up to $8,000 a student – would be siphoned off for each pupil who leaves a brick-and-mortar building to attend the virtual school.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said this moratorium would not affect already established virtual charter schools.

“It would basically be for charter schools that have not been established going forward,” Vanover said. He noted that the ISBE and the state charter school commission are separate agencies.

If Quinn signs the bill into law, it is unclear whether Illinois Virtual Charter School’s appeals process before the state commission would be affected. The language of H.B. 494 refers to only the establishment of virtual charter schools.

The state commission has established individual appeal hearings for all 18 school districts. The hearings are June 19, 20, 24 and 26. The districts also will have time beforehand to respond to Virtual Learning’s formal appeal.

“The commission listened to the public comment at our meeting and adopted a plan that treats all parties fairly and individually,” said Greg Richmond, the chair of the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

DeKalb School District 428 Superintendent Jim Briscoe and Sycamore School District 427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman have found the virtual school proposal process arduous.

“While we’re not against virtual learning at all, the process has been cumbersome,” Countryman said. “It has taken a lot of time and resources to move this process along.”

Briscoe said he felt the process has been weighed in favor of the virtual charter school. DeKalb officials have complained about how IVCS issued generic 1,100-page responses to the school districts’ questions.

The Illinois Senate passed H.B. 494 with a 46-7 vote, while the House passed the same bill with an 80-36 vote in April. DeKalb County’s local lawmakers – Reps. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and Sens. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, and Tim Bivins, R-Dixon – all voted in favor of the moratorium.

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