Thursday, January 24, 2008

Saving virtual schools

Are virtual schools at a dead end, or will a compromise save them? From my column this week in the Waukesha Freeman:

When I spoke with Kramer on Monday evening, he was trying to be optimistic, noting the more than 1,100 students, parents and faculty who visited the state capital Jan. 16 could only have a positive effect. “It’s hard to look at a parent of a student in a school that works for them and tell them their school may be taken away.”

But so far Democrats in the state Senate and the governor have done just that. Gov. Jim Doyle is trying to avoid the issue, saying it’s the Legislature’s job to fix the problem. State Sen. John Lehman has piled on by proposing a bill that would slash funding for the state’s virtual schools, effectively closing their doors before the courts can. Democratic state Rep. Sondy Pope Roberts has predicted no bill will pass both houses of the Legislature to save virtual schools.

If no bill passes this year, voters need to remember who stood in the doorway of educational opportunity for thousands of Wisconsin children.
Meanwhile, Rose Fernandez of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families put this update on their website,
As we mentioned yesterday, conversations regarding a possible legislative compromise have been taking place in Madison since last week's rally. We view these discussions as a positive development in that no progress was possible if neither side were speaking with the other.

We have seen press reports and have heard first-hand accounts that a compromise may even be announced soon. On that point, some words of caution.

One of the benefits of being a member of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families is that you have access to the insight and experience of our advocacy and legal teams, who are well versed in the legislative process and these kind of negotiations. Basically, they have told us two things:

First, this could be very good news.

Second, there are many steps and hurdles left in the process, and the devil is always in the details. The Coalition will refrain on commenting upon the merits of any compromise until our team has the chance to review an actual piece of legislation. It would not be prudent for us to make any judgments about the effectiveness or quality of any compromise based only upon press releases or talking points. Last week, when we encouraged you to support AB697 we included the language of the bill in your packets. We supported that bill after carefully reviewing each section, each word. Our process with any new bill will be the same. Once we've reviewed actual legislative language, we'll share it with you, and encourage specific action on your part.

Furthermore, while there are individuals of good will working on our behalf in Madison, any compromise would need the sign off of the leadership of both houses and the Governor to actually become law. So, even if we pass this one hurdle, there is a long way to go before we can comfortably say our problems have been resolved.

So, as promised, we're keeping you in the loop. While there is a great deal of ambiguity in this email, it reflects reality. The situation in Madison is fluid. As things gel, we'll send out further updates.

One thing is certain. Your efforts last week have made an impact. Stay tuned. We may encourage you to engage again very soon.