Setback for virtual schools

"If you can't beat ‘em, sue ‘em," has become an unofficial American motto, and one that the teachers unions shrewdly employ across the land, pretty much wherever they lose in the legislature. This week's example comes from the Badger State. Terrified about competition from the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), an online school affiliated with K12, the Wisconsin Education Association Council took its sponsor, the Department of Public Instruction, to court. The resulting union victory represents the first case in the country to go against virtual schools. (This Education Next article provides an excellent primer on the legal background of virtual schooling.) A court of appeals panel found that the school violated the state's charter school, open enrollment, and teacher licensing laws. The latter finding is most troubling; Judge Richard Brown wrote in his decision, "The problem is not that the unlicensed WIVA parents teach their children, but that they 'teach in a public school.'" Following that logic, will high school students who teach themselves have to become certified as teachers, too? Brown, painting himself as an anti-activist judge, argues that "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." Let's hope it does. Meanwhile, the case heads for the Wisconsin Supreme Court even as K12 embarks on a public offering of its stock. (Disclosure: Fordham's Checker Finn is a former director of K12.)

"Group: Ruling could shut down virtual schools across Wis.," by Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press, December 5, 2007

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