Advocates Say Virtual School Lockout Still in Effect, Harming Families

MacIver News Service | August 18, 2010

[Madison, Wisc…] Virtual school advocates in Wisconsin say this year’s lockout of would-be online public charter students continues to anguish hundreds of families across the state. So they will be pleading with the next legislature to change state law that caps enrollment in these schools.

“The arbitrary and onerous enrollment cap is needlessly impacting the lives of hundreds of Wisconsin families,” said Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families’ Vice President Julie Thompson. “The teacher’s union and some politicians demanded this outrageous cap, and the families are paying the price—imagine all through this summer, hundreds of families didn’t know where their children will be attending school in September.”

Because of the cap on enrollment, nearly more than 1,700 children were locked out of the public school of their choice and had to wait for others on the list to drop off before being able to enroll in their chosen school. As of today, dozens of students who hope to enroll in one of Wisconsin’s online public charter schools still remain on a state-mandated waiting list.

The Coalition explained how the enrollment cap is administered:

  • 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 opt for more certainty and decide not to send their children to the virtual school of their choice.

The parent advocates say this enrollment cap has had a severe impact on families across Wisconsin.

“Supplies have been shipped and were in our homes weeks ago,” explains Thompson, whose daughter has been a student in online schools for 7 years. “Online offerings to prepare new families for the school year were offered over the summer, but everyone who was still on the waiting list missed out.”

Thompson said local school districts who offer the virtual school option are also left in a bind because of the cap.

“Schools have had to hire and assign staff and even now teachers could have to accommodate significant increases in their student numbers,” said Thompson.   “The only reason this enrollment cap exists is because of the disproportionate power wielded by the state teachers’ union.”

According to statistics from the State Department of Public Instruction, as of today: 1,670 students on the waiting list could be offered spaces in the virtual schools, which leaves 86 still locked out of the public school of their choice.

“Hundreds of families gave up hope during this waiting period,” said Thompson. “The state is needlessly causing pain and grief for children whose only crime is their desire to attend a public school about which they are actually excited. Imagine that.”