During the Covid19 pandemic, there is uncertainty as to what will happen with the start of the 2020-21 school year in approximately three months. Parents may have unease about their children returning to a classroom as we wait for the development of a vaccine.
Wisconsin offers the option of attendance with a virtual charter school.
Charter Schools in Wisconsin
All charter schools in Wisconsin are “public, nonsectarian schools created through a business-like contract of ‘charter’ between the charter governance board and the sponsoring school board or other chartering authority.”1
Charter schools are created with the best elements of regular public schools in mind. Charter school leaders may experiment with different instructional theories, site-based management techniques, and other innovations. Wisconsin wants each charter school to meet the special needs and interests of its community, parents, and students.2
Most charter schools in Wisconsin have a “charter” or contract with the local school district board. Approximately 25 charter schools in Wisconsin are not sponsored by the local school board district, but instead sponsored by a chartering authority.3
A chartering authority includes the common council of the city of Milwaukee, the chancellor of any institution within the University of Wisconsin system, a technical college district board, the Waukesha county executive, the College of Menomonee Nation, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, and the UW-System Office of Educational Opportunity.
Virtual Charter Schools in Wisconsin
Virtual charter schools are under contract with a school board.
Pursuant to Wis. Stat. section 115.001(16), a “virtual charter school" means a charter school under contract with a school board under Wis. Stat. section 118. 40, in which all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the internet and the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other.
Section 118.40(8) provides the statutory details of a virtual charter school. Some virtual charter schools operate under a “blended learning model” and require some physical attendance.4
Due to the pandemic, one might expect virtual charter schools with a blended learning model for the coming school year to offer nonphysical attendance.
Home schooling vs Virtual Charter Schools
There is a distinct difference between home schooling and attendance with a virtual charter school:
Attendance at a virtual charter school is not home schooling, even though the pupil may primarily attend school from home. A virtual charter school is a public school authorized by a locally-elected school board, with a public-school curriculum and certified teachers. Home schooling is a home-based private education program created by the parent. Whether home schooling or enrollment in a public virtual charter school is the better option, depends on what the parent wants.5
A disadvantage of the virtual charter school is that the full educational experience that one may receive from a noncharter public school may not be available. The sponsoring school board may not allow the student to take a course or courses through the noncharter public school when enrolled in the virtual charter school. The pandemic may also bend this general understanding, resulting in school boards relaxing their rules to afford parents greater flexibility.
Time will tell within the next three months what course the pandemic will take. Fortunately, Wisconsin offers options for parents to make the best decisions for their children.
1 See the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction webpage on charter schools in Wisconsin and Wis. Stat. section 118.40 (“Charter Schools”).
3 See Wis. Stat. section 118.40.
4 See the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction webpage on virtual charter schools.