In Wisconsin, we have always been proud of our strong education system. New demands and technology are changing the way we prepare our children to enter the 21st century workforce. We must ensure that our state’s education system remains a national leader by providing our children with the skills that are needed to compete in a global economy.
It has been proven that not every child learns the same way. In fact, some students learn best outside of the traditional bricks-and-mortar school setting. For these children, virtual schools have come to fill an educational need. Virtual schools involve long-distance learning that use computers and Internet connections. These schools employ vigorous and challenging curricula along with regular interaction with state-certified teachers.
However, virtual schools were nearly wiped out in 2007 due to a court challenge by WEAC, the state’s teachers union.
In response, in the last legislative session I led the charge to ensure that virtual schools remain an option for Wisconsin’s parents and children. A bipartisan compromise was reached to keep the schools open but included a cap of 5,250 students requested by critics until a legislative audit could be conducted.
Just last week, the Legislative Audit Bureau released its findings on virtual schools. The results revealed that virtual schools are excelling across the state. Specifically, the report confirmed that virtual schools are not only growing in popularity but are a good value and result in high satisfaction and achievement levels. The audit showed that spending on virtual schools was averaged at $5,779 per pupil compared to $11,397 in traditional schools. Furthermore, more than 90 percent of parents, teachers, and students were satisfied with their school experience. In addition, virtual schools outperformed traditional schools in reading scores for every grade level and math scores for four out of the seven levels tested.
Finally, the audit pointed out that the current arbitrary cap in state law may soon be locking students out in future years. This year, more than 5,000 students applied for open enrollment in virtual schools, resulting in a final enrollment count of 3,635. If no action is taken, virtual schools will be forced to turn students away due to the enrollment cap.
Therefore, I have introduced Assembly Bill 306, which will eliminate the cap to ensure these schools remain an option for parents and students across the state. Although the bill has been sitting in committee since June of last year, I hope the positive results of the audit will change virtual school opponents’ minds and spur action on the legislation.
Virtual schools are not meant to replace traditional bricks-and-mortar schools and are not for every child. But it is clear these schools are working for the children and parents who use them. They provide a high-quality alternative at a lower cost to the taxpayer. I encourage you to contact your state legislators and ask them to support lifting the cap on virtual school enrollment.