Former Marine and Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., R-Calif., who is the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said it’s unbelievable that potential recruits are being turned away during wartime.

“Their level of education is often right on par with traditional public school graduates,” said Hunter.

The congressman, who serves with Wilson on the Armed Services and Education Committees, said he doesn’t want to tell the military whom to recruit, but he thinks it will have to broaden its thinking when an improved economy starts pulling applicants into the job market.

Their subcommittee has inserted language into its portion of the Pentagon fiscal year 2012 budget bill instructing the military to treat students from virtual high schools equally if the schools are in line with state education laws. The full committee is due to take action on the bill on May 11.

One of the main backers of cyber schools says it has been seeking a change in the military’s policy because the number of students attending online is growing.

Peter Groff, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said his organization estimates 168,310 students attended virtual schools in 2009-10. They know of 219 charter schools that are purely online, and 134 that are a hybrid of bricks-and-mortar and online instruction, he said.

Projected enrollment is expected to increase next year by 7,000 students, Groff said.

States such as Minnesota have had programs for 20 years, while Utah, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania also have seen strong growth, he said. In all, 40 states and the District of Columbia have some form of virtual high school program allowed, he said.

Jared Dennis, Lexington, S.C., said he was devastated when he sought out an Air Force recruiter, but was told he was in “Tier 2” status. He was told he could enlist only after he took about a year of college-level classes.