Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise released a study on digital learning that puts strength behind the growing numbers of parents looking to eliminate charter school caps in many states. Here’s a story from Wisconsin:

[Madison, Wisc…]  A new report released this week provides a road map for policymakers who want to ensure virtual schools excel in Wisconsin, and the nation.

“We who have chosen public online schools for our children know first hand how great these schools are,” said Julie Thompson, Vice President and spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families. “We are excited by this report, which lays out clear criteria for making this high-quality education option available to all children who are interested.”

Authored by two former governors, Republican Jeb Bush of Florida and Democrat Bob Wise of Virginia, the “10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning” were presented at the Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC.

One of the key elements highlighted was “Student Access.” It’s an area where Wisconsin Law is quite restrictive.

“The waiting list created by the enrollment cap deters thousands of families from pursuing the public school of their choice,” said Thompson. “This, plus the narrow, three-week window for open enrollment are significant barriers to access that we hope to see removed early in 2011.”

Students who wish to enroll in public online charter schools administered by other school districts only have a three-week window in February in which to choose the alternative that suits them best. Currently enrollment in public online charter schools (also known as ‘virtual schools’) is capped at 5,250 students. In order to administer the cap, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instructions put 1,756 students on a waiting list earlier this year.

Many languished on the list for months, left in a bureaucratic limbo, uncertain where they would be going to school in the autumn. During their time on the list, many families chose certainty over the possibility of winning the enrollment lottery and voluntarily abandoned their hopes of attending these public schools.

In addition to Student Access, the other key elements highlighted by the report were: Student Eligibility, Personalized Learning, Advancement, Content, Instruction, Providers, Assessment/Accountability, Funding and Delivery.

The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families is a voluntary-membership association of parents, students, teachers, administrators and others interested in providing the state’s school children access to high-quality, public, online charter schools.  They are online at www.WIVirtualSchoolFamilies.org

See the report.

See the governors discuss digital learning in a CNN interview.

How the ‘Cap’ and the open enrollment window deny access to public online charter schools in Wisconsin:

  • *Families who wanted to enroll their children in virtual public charter schools in Wisconsin for the 2010-11 school year submitted their open enrollment applications to virtual schools in February.
  • *After returning students and their siblings take their spaces (according to state law these applicants have priority) new applicants are admitted to the extent that space is available under the enrollment cap.
  • *Because of the enrollment cap, DPI had to determine if the number of new applicants to virtual schools would cause the number of students enrolled to exceed the 5,250 cap.  Because that cap was reached, the new applicants who were allowed to enroll have to be selected at random.
  • *DPI reported that there were 4,151 new applicants for the 2010-11 school year, more new applicants than there were spaces available for new applicants under the enrollment cap.
  • *Taking into consideration returning students, in May the state law only allowed 2,395 new applicants to receive firm approval to enroll. DPI told the schools which specific new applicants should receive firm approval letters then.
  • *The 1,756 new applicants whose applications were not firmly approved were placed on a waiting list this spring.
  • *Since May, several families opted for more certainty and decided not to send their children to the virtual school of their choice.
  • *253 slots were offered in the last 9 days of enrollment alone, a few dozen at time as people fell off the list.  The cap has locked out families.
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