Cambridge Lakes group withdraws virtual charter school plan

PINGREE GROVE – Northern Kane Educational Corp. has scrapped its plans to create a virtual charter school and avoided a debate with District 300 over the merits of a state prohibition on virtual charters.

Northern Kane instead will incorporate its charter plans to expand its online blended learning program as a program within the group’s Cambridge Lakes Charter School in District 300’s territory of Pingree Grove, Chief Executive Larry Fuhrer said.

Fuhrer said a virtual charter would have allowed Northern Kane to expand and brand its blended learning program to school districts across the state through a cleaner and less-complicated avenue.

But after he pitched that idea to District 300 board members in mid-May, he learned through a district attorney that the board wouldn’t support Northern Kane’s virtual charter because of a new state prohibition on online-only charters.

“We were already grandfathered in because we already had virtual learning in Cambridge Lakes,” Fuhrer said. “As far as the bill the governor signed, it doesn’t preclude us from working with other districts on incorporating blended learning.”

Fuhrer unveiled the virtual charter plans to the Carpentersville-based school district amid controversies with the nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions’ attempt to create an online-only charter school in District 300 and 17 others in the Fox Valley.

Virtual Learning Solutions’ effort was met with resistance and sparked legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn signed May 24. It suspended the creation of any new virtual charter school for a year to allow state lawmakers time to study the alternative, online form of schooling.

Fuhrer and Northern Kane’s attorneys still believe the group’s virtual charter proposal would have been allowed even with the state prohibition because its blended learning program had been in operation at Cambridge Lakes since 2011.

But he understood that with any new law comes debate over merits. That debate likely would have prevented Northern Kane from being able to expand its blended learning program to school districts this fall, Fuhrer said.

District 300 spokeswoman Allison Strupeck acknowledged that district officials had concerns about whether Northern Kane’s virtual charter proposal would have been allowed under the state prohibition.

“There was some speculation on whether the [Northern Kane] application fit into that moratorium piece or not, and we believe that it does,” Strupeck said.

Fuhrer already has met with school districts throughout the region about incorporating Northern Kane’s blended learning program that offers traditional and online classroom instruction into the curriculum.

The intent of the blended learning expansion was always to complement, not supplant, the curriculum of individual school districts, he said.

“If we are going to provide the services to the children of Illinois like we need to, we’ve got to find the tools that increase their learning appropriately, and blended learning offers that,” Fuhrer said.

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