Online learning takes many forms and has many names. There are online courses, programs and schools, which may be called online, virtual, cyber or blended education, to name a few.
In Wisconsin, a virtual charter school is a specific form of online learning. It is the only form of online learning in which an open enrolled pupil may participate from home, that is, without having to physically attend school in the nonresident school district during all the days and hours that school is in session.
A virtual charter school is defined in Wis. Stats. § 115.001 (16) as “a charter school … 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.”
In addition, state statutes contain specific requirements that must be met by virtual charter schools. See Wis. Stats. § 118.40 (8).
Any form of online learning that does not meet the statutory definition of a virtual charter school and all of the requirements of Wis. Stats. § 118.40 (8) is not a virtual charter school. That does not mean that open enrolled pupils cannot attend online classes or programs, however, the pupil cannot access these programs and courses from home; they must go to school.
- Online schooling is not the easy way out. It requires initiative and self-discipline and the ability to work independently.
- Attendance at a virtual charter school is not homeschooling, even though the pupil “attends” school from her or his home. A virtual charter school is a public school authorized by a locally-elected school board, with a public school curriculum and certified teachers. Homeschooling is a home-based private education program created by the parent. Whether homeschooling or enrollment in a public virtual charter school is the better option, depends on what the parent wants.
- Pupils in virtual charter schools must attend school regularly, in whatever manner attendance is defined and monitored in the specific virtual charter school. Failure to do so could result in the pupil being dropped from the virtual charter school.
- Virtual charter schools are not for everyone and not all virtual charter schools operate the same way, so you need to do your homework. Visit the websites of the virtual charter schools you are interested in. Go to informational meetings offered by the virtual charter school. If you have questions, contact the virtual charter school directly.
- Virtual charter schools may not offer the full educational experience your child may be used to in a traditional school. Some types of classes may not be available in the school you select and your resident school district is not required to permit your child to take courses in the district while enrolled in a virtual charter school. It may not be possible for your child to participate in WIAA-sponsored athletics. [If participation in WIAA-sponsored athletics is important to you, contact the virtual charter directly to discuss eligibility.]
- Open enrollment is only available to Wisconsin residents. A pupil who is not a Wisconsin resident is not eligible to attend a Wisconsin virtual charter school free of charge. Out-of-state parents who are interested in enrolling their child on a parent-paid tuition basis should contact the virtual charter school directly.
It is common for virtual charter schools to be referred to as homeschooling and vice versa. However, in Wisconsin, these are very different. The following may assist you in differentiating between attendance at a virtual charter schools and home-schooling:
You may want a Virtual Charter School (VCS) if:
- You want a public school that is publicly funded and authorized by a locally-elected school board.
- You want a curriculum selected and adopted by a VCS board that is aligned with state educational goals and standards.
- You want to be a learning coach for your child, under the direction of certified teachers.
- You want your (high school) child to earn public school credits and receive a public school diploma.
You may want a Home-Based Private Educational Program (HBPEP) if:
- You do not want to enroll your child in a public school.
- You want complete responsibility to create and deliver your child’s educational program, including responsibility to select or create the curriculum.
- You want to include religious instruction in your curriculum.
- You want to be responsible for establishing schedules and deadlines, and set the pace for your child’s instruction.
- You want to be your child’s primary teacher, or appoint your child’s primary teacher, without regard to state certification.
- You want to establish your own learning goals and develop and carry out your own assessments.
- Know which virtual charter school you want your child to attend. The list above provides the names of the 29 virtual charter schools that will be operating in the 2014-15 school year.
- Apply to the correct school district. Each virtual charter school is “authorized” by a specific school district. Pupils open enroll to the authorizing district in order to attend the virtual charter school. The link above shows the list of virtual charter schools in the 2014-15 school year and the school district that authorized the virtual charter school. If a school district is not on this list, the school district does not have a virtual charter school.
- Fill out the virtual charter school pages of the online application correctly: On page 6 of the application, check “Yes” that you will be applying for one or more of your children to attend a virtual charter school. On page 10.0, indicate the school district in which the virtual charter school is located (see list above). On page 12.0, select the virtual charter school.