State House OKs virtual charter school moratorium

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

The state House of Representatives voted, 80-36, to 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 measure, now in the state Senate, came in response to a proposal from the nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley.

The proposed online school would include students from 18 area school districts, including Carpentersville-based District 300, and would be funded by local school district funds, estimated at up to $8,000 per student.

The proposed measure directs the Illinois’ State Charter School Commission during the moratorium 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. State Reps. Jack Franks, D-Marengo; Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia; and Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, voted in favor of the measure, while state Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; and Mike Tyron, R-Crystal Lake, voted against it.

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

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

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he and other supporters are not opposed to the concept of online charter schools, but believe a pause is needed to give time to “clarify standards” for virtual charter schools and investigate how much Virtual Learning Solutions proposes to charge per student.

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