School & District Management

Audit: Wis. Virtual Schools Close to Capacity

By The Associated Press — February 22, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The continued popularity of Wisconsin’s virtual schools is pushing them near capacity, which may force the state legislature to revisit an enrollment cap put in place two years ago, according to a recent audit.

The state’s 15 virtual schools offer classes from kindergarten through high school over the Internet, allowing students to attend from home. Such schools have been growing in popularity in Wisconsin and nationwide as an alternative for students who want to take courses not available at their regular schools, or who may not otherwise perform as well in a traditional school.

But the future of Wisconsin’s virtual schools was put in jeopardy when a state appeals court ruled in 2007 that the largest one, Wisconsin Virtual Academy, was operating in violation of open-enrollment, charter school, and teacher-licensing laws. The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Advocates for virtual schools successfully lobbied the legislature to change state law so those schools could continue operating despite the court ruling. A deal reached in 2008 made a number of changes in response to the ruling, including establishing a 5,250-student cap on open enrollment.

Parents Pleased

Under open enrollment, students may attend schools outside the district in which they live. The policy is vital for the success of virtual schools, where 91 percent of the students come from other districts.

Virtual Education and the States

During the 2008-09 school year, state virtual schools existed in at least 27 states. An additional six states had state-led e-learning initiatives that offered services to local school districts.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Source: “Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning,” Evergreen Education Group, 2009

The audit shows there is no justification for continuing the enrollment cap, said Julie Thompson, the vice president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families.

“These schools are obviously serving their population very well,” Ms. Thompson said, citing findings in the audit that more than 90 percent of parents and guardians contacted said they were satisfied. Ms. Thompson’s daughter is a freshman at Wisconsin Virtual Academy, which is operated by the 2,600-student McFarland school district.

The audit also assuaged concerns about the qualifications of teachers at virtual schools. It showed that as of the 2007-08 school year, all 161 virtual school teachers were licensed in the state and teaching the appropriate subjects and grades.

The audit did find that the performance of virtual school students, based on three years of statewide test results, was inconsistent. Students had higher reading scores than other public school students, but their math scores were generally lower.

Enrollment Increases

Ms. Thompson said the audit’s positive findings about virtual schools are expected to persuade state lawmakers to remove the enrollment cap. Such bills have been introduced by Republicans but haven’t gone anywhere in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

“There’s simply no reason to have an arbitrary cap anymore,” said Rep. Brett Davis, a Republican who is sponsoring one of the bills and worked with virtual school families on the compromise passed in 2008.

Mr. Davis said he would be calling on Democrats to schedule a hearing on removing the cap.

Mr. Davis and Ms. Thompson said they expect the enrollment cap to be reached within the next year or two. Overall enrollment in Wisconsin virtual schools has increased an average of more than 21 percent annually since 2004.

Digital Directions

This month, Education Week began a special technology feature that will appear in every issue of the newspaper, covering news, trends, and ideas about digital learning and administrative uses of tech tools in schools.

Read the winter issue of Education Week Digital Directions to learn more about digital tools for customizing learning, the role of e-learning in personalizing education, teacher use of whiteboards, Twitter in the classroom, and student perspectives about how schools could use technology more effectively.

The window for parents to take advantage of open enrollment for next school year closed on Feb. 19.

This school year, nearly 5,100 students applied for open enrollment to attend virtual schools in Wisconsin, but only 3,635 ultimately enrolled full time.

A spike in interest was due in part to statewide television, print, and radio advertising by some schools and to a policy allowing for enrollment to be done online, the audit bureau said.

Wisconsin has seen an explosion in advertising by virtual schools. The amount spent went from just $4,500 in the 2002-03 school year to nearly $715,000 in 2007-08, the audit said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 2010 edition of Education Week as Wis. Mulls Scrapping State Enrollment Cap For Its Virtual Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Leading a City School District Is Tough. A New Program Aims to Ease the Way
Its creators hope to drive down big-city superintendent turnover by preparing candidates for the stresses of leadership.
3 min read
Woman standing on a paper boat with a tsunami wave approaching.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management 5 Tips for Switching From Snow Days to Remote Classes
Two district leaders say communication, flexibility, and adaptability are key to success.
4 min read
Close up of hands holding a smartphone and working at a laptop near a window showing a snowy day
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Will Schools Actually Ditch Snow Days for Virtual Learning? The Outlook Is Still Cloudy
More districts are substituting some remote learning, but snow days are still an option in many places.
5 min read
Buses parked covered with snow
iStock/Getty
School & District Management 3 Tips to Build Trust Between School Boards and the Public
Here's how school boards can improve ways of interacting with parents and the community.
3 min read
Photo of empty chairs at school board meeting.
iStock / Getty Images Plus