Virtual Charter School Group Drops Appeal in Illinois

A group that hoped to open a virtual charter school covering the suburbs of Chicago has dropped its plans to appeal their rejection by 18 Illinois school boards to be granted a license to operate within their borders. The Illinois Virtual Charter School would have enrolled students from the Fox River Alley area, but on Tuesday during the state charter school commission meeting the group announced that it was dropping its appeal and wasn’t planning to proceed further.

The change in course could have been related to the one-year moratorium on new virtual charters put in place by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in May. Initially the applicants argued that the moratorium didn’t cover applications currently on appeal at the same time as school districts protested that the moratorium stripped them of the power to authorize their own virtual charters, but the State Charter School Commission announced that they saw no other option but to reject all pending applications.

Virtual Learning Solutions surveyed the situation and decided to terminate the project.

But before commissioners could take that vote, Virtual Learning Solutions board members reversed course.

Ted Dabrowski, a Wilmette resident who works as vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, took over as president of Virtual Learning Solutions when Sharnell Jackson resigned the week the moratorium became law. He said Monday it was “obvious” the one-year moratorium required his group’s project be put on hold.

“We’ve decided to withdraw the appeal, and of course we’ll wait for clarity from the state charter commission,” Dabrowski said. “Hopefully the parameters for creating a school such as the one we’ve discussed will be precise and clear.”

The commission will use the yearlong moratorium to appoint an advisory council made up of commission members and virtual learning providers, state board of education officials, virtual learning experts and charter sector representatives. The council will put together a report for March of next year that will give commission members a better understanding of the benefits and risks of virtual learning, including how well students learn in a virtual environment compared to a traditional classroom and the costs associated with running a virtual school.

The report will be used to create a set of guidelines the commission can use when it considers any further applications and appeals from virtual charter operators.

Dabrowski said Virtual Learning Solutions will wait to see how the virtual charter school landscape changes before replacing Jackson and John Rico, who resigned in April. The three-member board still includes Naperville businessman Mike Skarr and Chicago political communications consultant Eric Kohn. The group will have until next spring to decide if it wants to take another stab at opening a virtual charter school in the Fox Valley or elsewhere.