The Indiana legislature has passed a bill permitting virtual charter schools to serve students throughout the state, regardless where they live.
House Bill 1002, sponsored by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Representatives Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis), and Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis), allows the creation of virtual charter schools in the state with no limits on enrollment. The state’s two existing virtual charter schools are limited to 500 students.
The bill passed the state Senate by a 29 to 20 vote on April 12, and the House of Representatives passed it by a 61 to 37 vote on April 27. Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed the bill into law on.May 5.
“Once again, Indiana is at the forefront of a growing national movement that will ensure our students receive the quality instruction they deserve,” noted Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett in a press statement. “By boldly asserting every child’s right to attend a great school, the Hoosier state has taken a powerful stand in favor of equal educational opportunities for all children.”
If a student of the proposed new statewide virtual charter school previously attended a traditional public school, funds will follow the student to the virtual charter school. The range would be $4,800 to $8,400, depending on the funds allocated to the local “bricks and mortar” school system.
“This is an issue that I and many families have been advocating for years,” said Monique Christensen, president of Indiana Virtual School Families, a coalition of about 2,000 families. “Virtual schools are but one option that can provide a high-quality educational solution for kids. Not all children thrive in the standard brick and mortar environment.”
A virtual charter school enables students to access curriculum via computer rather than going to a school “building,” but many of the other educational elements are similar or superior to traditional education, said Christensen.
‘Pace Appropriate for Learning’
“Certified teachers with student/ teacher ratios similar to traditional schools oversee the schoolwork along with a committed learning coach whether it’s a parent, mentor, aunt, uncle, or someone else,” Christensen said. “Accelerated and gifted learners are able to move at a pace appropriate for their learning, and those needing remediation and extra help are able to spend the time needed in order to comprehend the material.”
Students must pass each lesson with 80 percent mastered comprehension before they are allowed to move on to the next lesson.
Even though there isn’t a traditional classroom, “teachers are in contact with their students and families frequently,” said Christensen. “Teachers often say they develop closer relationships and are in touch more with their virtual school students than they ever were in a traditional classroom through the use of phone, email, or Web cast conferences. Students also have access to their teacher and peers, as well as educational field trips, frequent social outings, and extracurricular activities.”
Students attending charter schools in Indianapolis have fared better in math and have had mixed results in other subjects compared to their counterparts in traditional schools, according to Marisa Cannata, associate director of the National Center on School Choice (NCSC) at Vanderbilt University.
‘Seeking Better Education’
Parents who move their children to virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools seem to be pleased with the choice, Cannata added. And other parents can’t wait to make that move.
“My husband and I have begun to look into adoption and are appalled at the education choices available to our future offspring,” said Julia Porter, who lives in Warsaw, a small town in the northern part of the state.
“When looking at alternatives to schools, the closest charter school is over an hour away,” said Porter. “I feel that this virtual charter would allow for educated individuals who have children and want more for them than the community offers to seek better education. As a former New York City teacher, I see many advantages to offering this in Indiana, as Indiana offers much fewer choices to parents than larger cities.”
Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.
“Indiana House Bill 1002,” Representatives Bosma, Behning, Sullivan, Noe, 2011: http://e-lobbyist.com/gaits/text/238882