Critics Sound Off on Plainfield Charter School Proposal
Education company K12 Inc. wants to partner with a non-profit to bring an online charter school to districts including Plainfield, Oswego and Valley View.
For-profit company K12 Inc. and its non-profit partner, Virtual Learning Solutions, want to bring an online charter school to 18 suburban Chicago school districts.
But the proposal could be fighting an uphill battle, if the reception it received at Monday night’s Plainfield school board meeting is any indication.
K12 representative Todd Thorpe gave District 202 board members and residents an overview Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley, an online public charter school targeting school districts including Plainfield, Valley View and Oswego.
“The idea is not to replace a school,” Thorpe told the board during a public hearing on the proposal. “ … It gets back to school choice. Virtual Learning Solutions believes parents should have a choice.”
District 202 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Glenn Wood said the board will vote on the proposal at its April 15 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Indian Trail Middle School.
How it works
Thorpe said Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox Valley would function much like a public school in that parents would not pay tuition — not directly, anyway.
The online school would be required to admit all students who apply and would use state-certified teachers. Students would have to take the same state tests as District 202 students, and the school would be subject to the same state and federal regulations, Thorpe said.
Everything students need for courses — from a computer, monitor and printer to textbooks and school supplies — would be supplied by Virtual Learning Solutions, according to Thorpe.
'Stay away from my tax dollars'
Under the proposal, Virtual Learning Solutions would have a contract with K12 to provide the curriculum for the online charter school, which would get a proposed $8,000 per student.
That $8,000 would come from state tax dollars that would be diverted from District 202’s coffers, going instead to Virtual Learning Solutions.
Joliet City Councilman Larry Hug said he attended Monday night’s meeting strictly as a parent.
“You’re here to make money,” Hug told Thorpe, comparing the online charter school to a private school like Providence Catholic High School.
“I encourage you to offer the same product at Providence high school on your own dime,” he said. “Stay away from my tax dollars. Our public education is being gutted and you want to gut it more for profit.”
In Illinois, the current foundation level, or amount of per-student state funding allotted to school districts, is $6,119. But General State Aid (GSA) is only being paid out at a rate of 89 percent, meaning District 202 is actually receiving $5,734 per student this year.
Thorpe countered that only an estimated .25 to .50 percent of the district’s total enrollment would likely make the switch to the charter school.
“Online education isn’t for everyone,” he said, adding that the virtual school could be a good fit for students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting. “It’s a very small percentage that’s interested in a full-time virtual environment.”
Wood questioned the need for the online charter school. “We feel that District 202 meets all those students’ needs and more,” he said.
Betsey Vinson, a parent and vice president of the District 202 CAPE organization, said she worries about the lack of social interaction for students who attend class online.
Vinson also worried about the impact of losing state funding dollars in a district that’s already had to make painful spending cuts in recent years. “I would hate for us to lose any more good staff,” she said.
Wood questioned Thorpe about data showing 25 to 27 percent of students at K12 schools reaching adequate yearly progress (AYP) in math and reading.
Thorpe said the scores were the result of the students’ level of proficiency at the time they entered the charter schools — a claim that drew the ire of Association of Plainfield Teachers President Dawn Bullock.
“Across the nation, this company can’t seem to deliver good grades. We’ve heard that they blame the students that they receive,” Bullock said.
Ann Bachman-Thomas, UniServ director for the Illinois Education Association and National Education Association, urged the board to vote against the proposal.
“We do think that this is a bad idea for public schools, especially here in Plainfield,” she said.
Board member Rod Westfall also balked at the turnover rate for online charter school students. On average, Thorpe said, students attend K12 schools for one to two years.
When a student transfers back to District 202, the district will regain responsibility for his or her education — and the costs that go along with it.
"That's going to have a severe impact on us," Westfall said. "In the meantime, you have our [tax] dollars and we can't recoup that."
Thorpe also took heat from board members and residents, who asked about class action lawsuits filed against K12, and a recent a Nashville-based NBC report alleging that its teachers were being told to delete failing grades.
He called the report a misunderstanding, saying the email conversation at the center of the story was referring to the fact that students can take assessments multiple times.
“The teacher was assigning a grade based on the average” of the students’ scores, Thorpe said.
Thorpe declined to comment on a class-action lawsuit that alleged investors were misled about the company’s business practices and academic performance. K12 agreed to pay $6.75 million to settle the case.
What do you think of the proposal? Do you want to see a charter school operating in Plainfield School District 202?
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