Lobbying to Be Left Alone

Most Illinois homeschoolers are the rare breed of people who feel a duty to lobby in Springfield for nothing more than to be left alone.

The Virginia based K12 corporation has been lobbying hard in IL ($$) to create a state-wide virtual school. K12 already provides curriculum to the Chicago Virtual School, which appears to be satisfying many public school parents. Even as the Chicago Teachers Union fought its initiation in an ugly manner with a lawsuit they lost. CTU contended the Chicago Virtual School shouldn’t be publicly funded as it was a home-based homeschool.

Homeschoolers can appreciate the public Chicago Virtual School parents’ satisfaction with their children’s education.  But K12’s business ambitions have compelled many homeschool groups to keep K12 out of their homeschool conference vendor halls.  The reasons were exemplified by a high profile K12 spokesperson and former federal Department of Education Secretary, Bill Bennett.   He refused to understand the homeschooling way – as it got in his way.

From Home Education Magazine’s Larry and Susan Kaseman:

The major differences between Bennett’s goals and those of most homeschoolers can be seen clearly in Bennett’s comments during an interview by Mark Standriff on WSPD radio in Toledo, Ohio, August 16, 2002.

Standriff: What kind of opposition have you folks found?

Bennett: We found opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. Some of the homeschooling people have opposed us.

Standriff: Oh really, I would think this would be right in line with their thinking.

Bennett: Well it should be. Frankly, I’m disappointed. I’ve been defending homeschoolers for twenty years. But the principle I’m defending, Mark, is school choice, parental choice. The objection they have is that it shouldn’t be involved in public funding, at all. It shouldn’t be involved with government schools, as they say. But, I’m not prepared to relinquish $400 billion and just say, well never mind, this is not money that I’m entitled to. Parents are paying that money in taxes, they should have an option within the public school system that gives them a chance to educate their children at home, but be publicly accountable as all public schools should be.

Bennett’s entitlement project has caused huge headaches for homeschooling advocates, along with some homeschoolers who found the ‘free’ curriculum and computer took away their free time for educational enrichment.

A Virtual School Act sponsored by Representative Chapa-LaVia is sitting in the Illinois House Rules Committee. A similar bill (HB 3743) sponsored by Representative Chapa-LaVia came up just about a year ago, and it was a bit shocking to see homeschoolers referenced in this public virtual school bill again.

When I called Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office last year, I was told by an aide that she hadn’t discussed this bill with homeschoolers- before inserting mention of us. And here it is again, and here is the “home school” reference again.

One major concern is any “home school” reference in Illinois statutes. We have private school status via a 1950 IL Supreme Court ruling. Private schools in the non-home based buildings help protect our tinier minority of homeschoolers via coalitions and such. We could lose that umbrella protection with “home school” separation from other private schools by precedent setting statutes like this one. I know that was explained to Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office.

The Northwest Herald also had a guest column late last month –Trends point to bright future ahead – written by the Asst. Regional Supt of Education for McHenry County:

“Perhaps most interesting is the increased interest in virtual education. Currently Illinois has a virtual high school, and Chicago has a virtual charter school. While the Illinois General Assembly has entertained a statewide program of virtual instruction, the states of Kansas and Florida already have them. The flexibility of virtual public school is interesting a surprising number of parents. Parents become the primary facilitators for their child’s instruction as they work through lessons delivered online. The state would be funding a system that would facilitate the education of a child but be delivered by the parent with instructional software.”

This school official had kind words for homeschoolers and other private schools, but the combination of a powerful legislator and a ROE official pushing virtual education with a “home school” legislative twist can give a homeschool advocate an unsettling feeling. Representative Chapa-LaVia is the chair of the Appropriations-Elementary & Secondary Education Committee. Handling the IL school funding and appropriations is a powerful job, even if our Illinois government won’t balance our budget or pay bills on time as private citizens do.   Words via legal documentation do count and those words can take away freedoms.  Whether there is funding or not.

This was also posted on the Illinois Review and IL Home Education Network.

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Illinois Virtual School Act- Again from Representative Chapa-LaVia

This was also posted on the IL Home Education Network.

A similar bill (HB 3743) came up just about a year ago, and it was a bit shocking to see homeschoolers referenced in that public virtual school bill.  When I called Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office last year, I was told by an aide that she hadn’t discussed this with any homeschoolers- before inserting mention of us.  I assumed good intentions, without her understanding what most homeschoolers want via protections in Illinois.  More here on last year’s bill:
Illinois Virtual School Bill Includes “home-schooled”


But here it is again, and the new bill has the “home-school” reference again.

One major obvious concern is any “home-school” reference in Illinois statutes.  We have private school status via a 1950 IL Supreme Court ruling.  Private schools in the non-home based  network help protect our tinier minority of homeschoolers via coalitions and such.  We could lose that umbrella protection with “home-school” separation from other private schools by precedent setting statutes like this one. I know that was explained to Representative Chapa-LaVia’s office.
Here are the specific references in this current HB 5168.  Bold face is mine:
The Virtual School Act– sitting in the Rules Committee; introduced 1/29/2010
Section 10. Creation and funding. There is hereby created the Illinois Virtual School, a statewide virtual school to serve Illinois students in kindergarten through grade 12 and Illinois teachers and other educators, funded through an annual State appropriation to meet the operation and capital needs of the Illinois Virtual School. Fees may be charged to schools and home-schooled families on a per enrollment basis to cover costs directly associated with the offering of online courses and the providing of online curriculum to Illinois schools. The Illinois Virtual School may also charge fees for services provided to students and schools outside of this State in order to further support the services provided to Illinois students and educators.
and again here:
(e) The Illinois Virtual School may not issue credit or diplomas except in the following situations:
(1) The student is home schooled.
(2) The student left school without earning a diploma and his or her class had graduated.
(3) Upon the request of the school district in which the student resides.

Representative Chapa-LaVia is the chair of the Appropriations-Elementary & Secondary Education Committee. Handling the IL school funding and appropriations is a powerful job, even if IL isn’t known for a balanced budget or paying bills on time.  Statute language does matter.

Chicago Virtual Charter School

The Chicago Virtual School’s approval by the IL State Board of Education in 2006 is covered in this article:

Chicago Schools Opens Its First Virtual Elementary School

Opposition to the Chicago schools’ new virtual elementary school stem from a variety of areas. Here are just a few:

• Computers will replace teachers and/or reduce their role in education, eliminating many teacher positions.
• The one-on-one attention that students may receive in a physical classroom setting will be lost.
• Virtual students in the Chicago schools will not receive enough social interaction, stunting their socialization skills.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union sued K12, ISBE (IL education governing body), Chicago Public Schools and other individuals, and lost. The lawsuit seemed to center around IL statute language that calls for “non-home based” charters. The K12 program is of course, built around the computer use being home-based. The Virtual also included a once/week science class attendance in a brick and mortar building. I imagine the brick and mortar classroom inclusion was to try and fend off the union’s concerns about the lack of social/emotional peer support in the classroom as quoted by the Chicago Teacher Union president:

“For them to think they can address the social and emotional issues of a child without being in the same room as that child is ludicrous,” Stewart said. “You can only adequately address these issues in a classroom where you have necessary peer support and peer interaction.”

More here:  Virtual Schooling on Fox News

Here’s the actual statute that the quibble is about.

(105 ILCS 5-27A-5)

Sec. 27A-5. Charter school; legal entity; requirements.

(a) A charter school shall be a public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, non-home based, and non-profit school. A charter school shall be organized and operated as a nonprofit corporation or other discrete, legal, nonprofit entity authorized under the laws of the State of Illinois.

For years, many IL homeschoolers were assuming that public school virtuals wouldn’t make their way into IL because of the particular statute phrasing quoted further down in this post;  that charter schools must be “new options” and that the charter will “create new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system”. Illinois had already created a public Virtual High School. And I think homeschoolers were resting on their laurels in that public school virtual was already created, and therefore blocked “new options” for virtual public schools.

But the Chicago Virtual is for K-8th grade. AND the IL legislators who created the charter school act were contacted this summer by K12 and virtual school proponents about what they -really – meant with that language.

Here’s the  quote from the Chicago Public School lawyer concerning the legislators’ responses:

“Rocks, the attorney for Chicago Public Schools, said the restrictions on “home-based” charter schools mushroomed from concerns that home schools were trying to become charter schools simply to get public dollars. He presented letters from state lawmakers who voted on Illinois’ charter school law, and said their intent was not to block Internet-based schooling.”

Here’s part of the legislative declaration concerning “new options”:

(3) The enactment of legislation authorizing charter schools to operate in Illinois will promote new options within the public school system and will provide pupils, educators, community members, and parents with the stimulus to strive for educational excellence.

(c) In authorizing charter schools, it is the intent of the General Assembly to create a legitimate avenue for parents, teachers, and community members to take responsible risks and create new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system. The General Assembly seeks to create opportunities within the public school system of Illinois for development of innovative and accountable teaching techniques. The provisions of this Article should be interpreted liberally to support the findings and goals of this Section and to advance a renewed commitment by the State of Illinois to the mission, goals, and diversity of public education.

So lesson learned, vigilance is eternal and question everything. IL homeschooling was dragged through the mud because of a public school issue.

Public School Programs Are Not Homeschooling

Virtual Schooling on Fox News

Here’s the link to the ~3 1/2 minute video from yesterday about public virtual schools: Virtual Schooling

Homeschooling came up immediately.

We all know home schooling is growing like wild fire spreading like — in this country. Tell me about — how virtual schooling differs from traditional home school ….

The guest responded accurately:

It’s full time public school so that differentiates from home schooling … home schooling is …not state funded. There are no report cards traditionally. It [virtual schooling] is public school and you abide by the test scene and — the requirements of the brick and mortar schooling.

She also gave a representation of the public virtual school advantages:

It’s self paced. It’s working at .. how they learn best and also you can engage in so many wonderful enriching curriculums that may not be provided — by your public school. “

They have more time outside the classroom with their family.

Illinois had a public virtual high school.  It is now called the Illinois Virtual School for grades 5 through 12, and is run by the Peoria County Regional Office of Education. Here’s what they say on their website:

Schools

The Illinois Virtual School partners with public, private, and home schools to provide online learning for students and educators.

Chicago has one public virtual school.  Information about the school is located on the private K12 corporation‘s site.

Here is a Chi-Town article about the Chicago Teachers Union lawsuit against this virtual public school. The lawsuit was dismissed last spring:

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Daniel A. Riley rejected both arguments. He wrote that although the school shares attributes of home schools, it is not a home-based school. Further, he said, because it is a charter school, it may define supervised instruction differently from state law.

“There are differences between the way we do education and traditional home schooling,” says Bruce Law, head of the Chicago Virtual Charter School. “On that difference — that’s where we were making our case.”

Marilyn Stewart, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says the difference was not enough to merit public funding. Since students of the virtual school spend most of their time learning at home, she says, they are essentially home-schooled.

“For someone to take public funds to home-school their children is not right,” she says. “It should not be on the backs of a majority of our students who are in our public schools.”