Oregon’s education board seeks rules on virtual schools

This week, the Oregon Board of Education took a small step toward resolving a five-year dispute over one of the thorniest questions of the virtual-schools movement, reports the Oregonian: Who decides whether a child can attend an online-only school? In Oregon, education dollars follow the students. And this issue pits parent choice against school district stability. Initially, each of six members of the state board suggested slightly different solutions. After nearly three hours of discussion, however, most board members said they would support parent choice—but only if there was a cap on how many students could leave an individual school district. Though they couldn’t agree on details, the board will send this recommendation as part of a larger report on virtual schools to the Legislature on Sept.1. The Legislature will take up the issue again in 2011. Since Oregon’s first virtual charter school opened in 2005, some school districts, union leaders, and politicians have been concerned that the schools would pull too many kids and resources from traditional public schools and cripple already-underfunded programs. Meanwhile, parents, charter, and virtual school advocates argued that parents deserve the right to choose what educational option best fits their child. Kaaren Heikes, executive director of the Northwest Center for Education Options, the state’s charter school association, said the board’s consensus on this issue was an important compromise. “Districts wanted to be protected from losing too many kids,” Heikes said. “That fear is addressed. Brick and mortar schools have natural enrollment limits. This gives virtual schools a reasonable limit as well.”

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