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State House OKs virtual charter school moratorium

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation to slap a one-year hold on the creation of new online charter schools has cleared the Illinois House on Wednesday.

The state House of Representatives voted 80-36 to amend the state's charter school law, putting a moratorium in place until April 1, 2014, "on the establishment of charter schools with virtual-schooling components" in most public school districts statewide.

The legislation also directs Illinois' State Charter School Commission to use that time to craft "a report on the effect of virtual-schooling," which would include evaluating student performance, online charter school costs and "issues with oversight."

Lawmakers also directed the commission to "include policy recommendations for virtual-schooling."

The legislation was introduced by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, a week ago.

The legislation quickly gained support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including state Reps. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville.

Other local representatives supporting the bill included state Reps. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, and Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago.

The legislation came in response to a proposal from Virtual Learning Solutions to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley.

The online school was proposed to include students from 18 school districts in Kane, DeKalb, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties, and would be funded by local school district funds, estimated at up to $8,000 per student.

Seventeen of the 18 school districts had rejected the online charter school proposal before the House voted on the legislation, and Valley View School District 365U was scheduled to vote Wednesday night.

But without a moratorium, Virtual Learning Solutions can appeal those decisions to the State Charter School Commission.

Lawmakers supporting the moratorium said they had concerns over a lack of regulation to govern virtual schools.

Pritchard applauded the bill's passage in the House, and said he believed the pause is needed to give time to "clarify standards" for virtual charter schools and investigate how much Virtual Learning Solutions proposed to charge per student.

Despite those concerns, Pritchard said he and other supporters of the moratorium were not opposed to the concept of online charter schools.

The legislation now is in the state Senate for consideration.

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