On December 5th, 2007, a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision fell like a virtual bomb on the more than 3,000 students enrolled in virtual charter schools in our state. The parents and students now find themselves in a political limbo as their digital connection to the virtual classrooms they rely on faces termination.
This unfortunate outcome, in my view, is primarily the fault of WEAC, Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and Governor Doyle. The teachers union sought to maintain their monopoly on teaching by pushing aside parents who want to participate in their child’s education. WEAC also disregarded the significant role that licensed union teachers play in the virtual school education model.
Superintendent Burmaster, despite being a defendant, assisted WEAC’s case against the parent’s role in educating their children while refusing to defend her own department’s interpretation of the law as it relates to charter schools and open enrollment – the other two central questions in the case.
The case was filed by WEAC in 2004 and in March, 2006, the circuit court ruled in favor of the virtual charter schools. As the opinion was pending, the legislature sought to address the statutory issues raised in the case by passing AB 1060. Doyle, siding with the teacher’s union, vetoed the bill. With a legislative remedy safely quashed, Burmaster joined WEAC in filing an appeal seeking to reverse the circuit court decision.
As a conservative, I appreciate the careful reading of the law that the court used in delivering its opinion. Even if we do not like the outcome, our courts should uphold their limited role of interpreting the law. The people elect a legislature to write the laws. As the court noted in this case:
“[T]hese statutes prohibit a school district from operating a charter school located outside the district, require that open-enrollment students attend a school in the district, and require that teachers in all public schools, including charter schools, be state-certified. For each statute, the District presents a creative reading allowing WIVA to continue its present operations, but our job is not to bend the statutory framework to fit WIVA. If, as its proponents claim (and its opponents dispute), WIVA has hit upon a bold new educational model that educates pupils in a way equal to traditional school at a fraction of the cost, then the legislature may well choose to change the law to accommodate WIVA and other schools like it. However, as the law presently stands, the charter school, open-enrollment, and teacher certification statutes are clear and unambiguous, and the District is not in compliance with any of them.”
The court concluded the opinion by again emphasizing this point:
“It is for the citizens of this state, through their elected representatives in the legislature, to decide whether and how their tax money is going to be spent. If the citizenry wants tax money spent on virtual schools like WIVA, that is fine. Let the citizens debate it and set the parameters, not the courts.”
The statutes were clearly not written in a way that favorably accommodates this innovative form of education. Having said that, judges do not bring suits into their courts hoping to find technical violations of the law. As I have said, the blame for this sad outcome lies solely in the hands of those who brought the case and a governor who refused to address the problems with the law.
The virtual charter schools could appeal this decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court – a court that as of late has demonstrated a willingness towards judicial activism – but I think we all know how that would work out.
The solution will be found in the legislature, but even then, we have two very different ways of approaching the problem.
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. John Lehman has introduced his own “fix” which would effectively kill the virtual charter school movement. Lehman’s pro-WEAC legislation would cut the per-pupil funding, vastly expand the number or hours a teacher spends instructing students, limit enrollment and prohibit the creation of any new virtual charter schools.
Assembly Republicans have introduced a bill that addresses the three issues at the heart of the court decision: 1. The bill would clarify the meaning of the location of a charter school, allowing teachers using the internet to teach – even if they are not physically teaching from the school district. 2. The bill also permits students to use the open enrollment program to enroll in a virtual charter school in another school district. 3. And finally, the bill makes it clear that a teacher means a paid faculty member of the charter school.
On the last issue - of parents and licensure – a commenter in a previous post wants to know my thoughts on how this legislation affects homeschoolers. I support the Assembly bill and I am a co-sponsor (in other words: this Bill supports that bill). I also support the rights of homeschoolers. The bill has a very limited scope and it applies only to virtual charter schools. The bill limits licensure to paid staff members of the virtual charter schools, and then goes beyond that by specifying those who do not require a license, specifically: “any person providing educational services to the pupil in the pupil’s home, other than staff of the virtual charter school, is not required to hold a license or permit.”
I have heard from school officials and parents in my own district that support AB 697 over Sen. Lehman’s legislation. Waukesha’s iQ Academy has been a success and proven to be very effective in reaching non-traditional students. Parents of children who attend iQ Academy have told me time and again how thankful they are for having access to the school. And officials with the school district have flat out said that without a legislative fix like AB 697, iQ Academy would be forced to close its virtual doors.
This legislation does not in any way infringe or threaten to infringe on the rights of homeschoolers. Nevertheless, the homeschool association does not have much use for the competing virtual charter school movement or the combination of some elements of home-schooling and organized education with licensed teachers who lay out lesson plans, correct homework, and issue grades.
In my view, the preferences of homeschool parents is no more or less valid than the preferences of virtual charter school parents or the preferences of parents who send their children to public and private schools. They all deserve our support and they should all be free to choose the education method that works for them.
Finally, let me share one more thought to this long-winded post. It may be due to being a freshman in the legislature or it may be wishful thinking, but I am optimistic that the Governor will work with Assembly Republicans to forge a compromise. Charter schools have received a lot of bipartisan support. Even rank-and-file union teachers have expressed support for online learning and other innovations offered in the charter schools.
This educational approach should be allowed to continue – who knows, a public school student may be able to find customized advanced-placement courses online that a district would not be able to offer in a traditional “brick-and-mortar” school.
Awesome post, Rep. Kramer.
Thank you, Representative Kramer.
This legislation does not in any way infringe or threaten to infringe on the rights of homeschoolers. Nevertheless, the homeschool association does not have much use for the competing virtual charter school movement ...
The WPA - or at least the fellow running the WPA - needs to realize that at least some parents utilizing virtual schools have been ‘home school’ parents and may well be home school parents at a future date.
He has met the enemy and he is us. Myself, I don’t have a lot of room for ideology; having core values and beliefs is a fine thing but if you don’t work with people and try to play nice you’ll be marginalized and set aside.
I am encouraged by the broad support I see for this; parents, teachers, left, right .. the only people who are fighting for the status quo appear to be some Democrats (and what’s up with that - Democrats arguing against change?) and the union.
It was also very keen being able to take the kids to Madison last week - showing them that this is a government by and for the people - that Joe Average can work to make a change and have input into the process - that’s priceless.
Even if your understanding of the lawsuit decesion is correct, the remedies provided by the court are not. From my reading of decesion and what others have said, they want the WVA closed now instead of waiting for a legislative fix. The court did not do that and it is the DPI and Attorney General office who is in support of shutting down WVA.
I don’t share your optimism with Doyle. He is in bed with WEAC and when they say jump, he just asks, how high.
Thank you, Rep. Kramer. I am a supporter of educational options, which include homeschooling and VCS, and hope that your bill gets passed, which will keep this innovative educational option in place as well as preserve homeschooling rights.
Well done, sir.
Last Wednesday was an incredible day at the capitol.
See more here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pV5Xl5ZJOI
Read more about this case at
I have been back reading the Posts and a question by Huckleberry dumbbell intrigued me, but you said you wanted to keep threads germane. So I repeat his question approx:
How can unconstitutional laws like the gas tax still be in force, while WIVA is supposed to close immediately without any chance to fix problems or wait for a legislative answer?
If I missed the answer in another post, please direct me.
Man, this is starting to sound like premiere week in the middle of a writer’s strike. Is that why so many candidates have sounded like idiots? Do they use writers from the guild too? (Just kidding)
If you are unable to teach kids to read why would you want to have competition that can do it. People start to ask questions! Why are the employees with big salaries, benefits, pensions and vacations are being outdone by schools with much smaller budgets and lower paid staff.
As John D. Rockefeller said: “competiton is a sin”.
No way Dohnal, follow the money. If WEAC were getting millions in free money for students they did not have to teach, they would embarass their teachers in a heartbeat.
If WEAC were getting millions in free money for students they did not have to teach, they would embarass their teachers in a heartbeat.
A few teachers have commented that it’s odd being sued by their own union, wondering why they are paying dues to have their advocate try to put them out of a job.
in their feel position I’d feel a little embarrassed by their actions.
I’ve read many a post on this topic, but this is unquestionably the most thoughtful. I don’t share your optimism, but the Governor clearly is inclined to avoid a full press on this issue. If anyone but Lehman—who has 142,000 WEAC buck . . . I mean, good reasons, to oppose this—I might be more hopeful.
In any event, many thanks for a rare glimpse into a reasonable mind on this topic.
On Monday, Rep. Kramer’s prediction will come true.
Governor Doyle will sign the senate version of this bill as amended by an Assembly Substitute Amendment - i.e., the compromise.
The compromise requires an independent audit of the schools and places enrollment caps on virtual charter schools, but the rest of it is closer to the original Assembly Bill.
The caps are bad, and this will be another battle for another day.
The Audit will show nothing significant. What we will find is that students in virtual schools do about as well as students in the public school districts that chartered the virtual schools.
What we won’t see is that the specific students in the virtual schools did better in their schools than they had been doing in the public schools.
We will conclde that the schools, on average, are about as good, and at far less cost to taxpayers.
With that report, the world will not change, the cap will remain, but at least virtual charter schools will survive.
Thanks Rep. Kramer for your post and for being an optimist.