A Brief History
In 2015, we'll mark a decade of working for you. As online education emerged as an exciting educational option in Wisconsin, we were met with considerable opposition from the educational establishment. Working together as a coalition, we've been able to fend off attempts to close our schools and we continue to achieve significant legislative victories in Madison. We work on your behalf and along side you. We're a resource for information, your eyes and ears in the Capitol, and your advocate. Here's a snapshot of our long journey. We've come a long way, but we've only just begun!
Winter 2002: Appleton School District announces plan to start Wisconsin Connections Academy, the state's first virtual school. Prospective students sign up through open enrollment.
Spring 2002: Sen. Chvala (D-Madison), with the urging of WEAC (teachers' union) introduces a bill that would restrict open enrollment by only allowing students to open enroll in a school district which is physically adjacent to their resident district. This bill would have effectively killed virtual schools before they started. Fortunately the bill fails to pass.
Sept. 2002: Connections opens as scheduled. WEAC promptly sues on the grounds that the school violates open-enrollment laws. WEAC eventually loses this case, but decides not to appeal because they are already involved in another lawsuit against WIVA.
Sept. 2003: WIVA opens. WEAC immediately sues, this time with the additional charge that WIVA is using parents as unlicensed teachers (despite the fact that the parents are volunteers, like many parent volunteers in traditional public schools). WEAC eventually loses this suit, too, and decides to appeal.
January 2005 Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families Founded
December 2007 The appeals court rules in WEAC's favor. If allowed to stand, this ruling would close every virtual school in Wisconsin.
Shortly after this decision, two bills on virtual schools are introduced in the state legislature. Sen. Lehman's (D-Racine) bill would cut funding in half and introduce a wide range of restrictions. Virtual school administrators say this bill would force them to shut down. Rep. Davis' (R-Monroe) bill would allow virtual schools to continue as they had been.
January 17. 2008 The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families holds a rally in favor of Rep. Davis' bill at the State Capitol. Over 1200 teachers, parents and students show up and spend the day educating their lawmakers on virtual schools.
February 2008 Sen. Lehman and Rep. Davis announce that they've reached a compromise, with the help of Senator Luther Olsen (R-Berlin). The compromise bill will keep full funding for virtual schools and introduce some restrictions which virtual school administrators say they can live with.
Governor Doyle, at the urging of WEAC. tells lawmakers he will veto the bill unless they include an amendment freezing enrollment at the current level (approx. 3500 students) and preventing any new virtual schools from opening. The Democratic-controlled Senate passes the bill with the amendment; the Republican-controlled Assembly passes the bill without the amendment.
March 2008 After weeks of intense negotiations (and sleepless nights for many of us parents) and with less than two weeks to go in the legislative session, all sides announce a compromise. Virtual school enrollment will be capped at 5,250 students and there will be no restrictions on starting new virtual schools.
The Assembly quickly passes the new compromise. A week later, the Senate follows suit with Senators Lehman and Olsen working with us on this compromise.
April 7, 2008 Gov. Doyle signs Act 222. No virtual school students, parents or teachers are invited to the signing. Gov. Doyle publicly thanks Rep. Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) for her help on the bill. We parents find this bizarre, since Rep. Pope-Roberts fought hard to prevent this bill from passing, but decide it's Gov. Doyle's way of telling us he didn't really want to sign this bill. We celebrate anyway and breathe easier, thinking the cap won't be reached for at least a couple of more years.
April 2009 The DPI announces that record numbers of students have open-enrolled in virtual schools and that the cap has been reached. A lottery is held and 1400 students are placed on a waiting list.
Summer 2009 Arne Duncan, Pres. Obama's head of Education, announces the Race to the Top fund. This fund will go to public schools in states that allow innovations in education. One of the stipulations is that the states must allow charter schools and must not have any restrictions on enrollment in these charter schools.
August 2009 The DPI announces that the final name has been selected from the waiting list; all students on the list were given the opportunity to enroll in a virtual school this year. Of course, many families withdrew their names early from the list, not wanting to be in limbo about the coming school year.
Fall 2009 Gov. Doyle announces plans to update Wisconsin's education laws so that we will be eligible for the Race to the Top fund. The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families meets with lawmakers, trying to convince them that the virtual school cap is a restriction on charter schools and will hurt Wisconsin's chance to get these funds.
October 20, 2009 The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families holds a Day at the Capitol. They present awards to those lawmakers who helped us win passage of Act 222. Families also visit their lawmakers to ask for their help in removing the cap.
June 2011 Governor Walker signs the budget, which eliminates the enrollment cap for virtual schools.
February 2012, Governor Walker signs Act 114, which creates de facto year-round open enrollment for public schools. He is surrounded by student and parent members of the WCVSF
March 28, 2012 - Governor Walker attends our Capitol Day workshop and receives the Rock Star of Education Award.
June 2013 Governor Walker signs 2013 Budget Bill – Act 20
6 Relevant Items included in final bill:
1 – Eliminates the additional training required for Virtual School teachers
2 – Creates new teacher licensing path for Charter Schools
3 – Allows emergency permit time to be counted for teacher licensing experience
4 – Requires DPI to promote digital delivery and prohibits rules requiring physical presence of teacher in classroom
5 - Provides $150 per year increase in open enrollment transfer amount
6 – Expands Course options to grade school and to institutions of higher learning
September 10, 2013 - Another successful Capitol Day. Students participate in a Town Hall meeting where they ask questions of Republican Senators Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman and State Representatives Robb Kahl (D) and Jeremey Theisfeldt.
March 2014 Act 257 is signed into law – Eliminates 180 day requirement for public school attendance and replaces it with minimum hour requirement, which better suits online learners and their families
For the last five years, we’ve been working to expand educational options in Wisconsin, including apprenticeship programs that utilize online learning. We’ve fought to expand open enrollment, brought shame upon bureaucrats who try to deny open enrollment transfers and consistently speak up for the rights of parents in a wide variety of forums.
As part of the 2015-17 education portion of the budget, a provision was included that would require school districts to allow homeschooled students, students attending private schools, and virtual charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities and on teams at their resident schools. There was significant opposition to this provision from multiple groups. In the end, the inclusion of virtual charter school students was removed from the bill before it was passed into law. The only group included in the provision in its final form that eventually became law was homeschooled students. Students who attend online public charters remain out in the cold. Granting our students access to these extracurricular activities remains a high priority for the coalition.
Our coalition also opposes efforts to limit parental choices in education, specifically those that target private school choice and the special needs scholarship program. We've been subject to such mistrust in the past and we believe efforts to limit educational options in Wisconsin show a distrust of Wisconsin's parents and leave kids in the crosshairs of a political battle. When options are limited, Wisconsin loses. When parents are trusted with the educational direction and choices for their children, Wisconsin Wins.