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Virtual Schools Bad for Education ReformPosted Wednesday, August 17, 2011, at 10:54 AM
Virtual education is no substitute for traditional public schools.
Last year under Governor Phil Bredesen, Tennessee made great strides in education reform when we won the Race to the Top Grant. Unfortunately, one year later, we have back tracked and jeopardized our standing as a national model for education. Over the next few weeks, I want to cover these changes and show why I think it's so important to reverse course next session and preserve our public education system.
Among the multitude of anti-public education bills filed this session was HB 1030, commonly known as the "Virtual Schools" bill. Under previous law in Tennessee, any school board could start a virtual education program for students enrolled in their public schools. This was commonly used to provide students with classes not offered at their institution or for students home bound by illness. It was provided free of charge and operated on a non-profit basis.
Under HB 1030, local school boards can still start their own virtual school, but now the state has opened the door to for-profit businesses running virtual schools as well. I opposed this legislation because I believe it will have several negative consequences.
First, I opposed this bill because public education is not intended to be a for-profit business. Tennessee's constitution requires us to provide free public education to every student in the state. Under HB 1030, school boards can now charge tuition to students for virtual schools. Additionally, millions of your tax-payer dollars will go to private companies and the state will still be forced to provide computer and internet access to students enrolled in these for- profit virtual schools. This goes against the spirit of public education and is fiscally irresponsible.
Second, I opposed this bill because it is a prime example of special interest groups infiltrating the legislative process. K-12 Inc is a multi-million dollar virtual schools company founded by a convicted felon. During the last legislative session, K-12 Inc hired 3 lobbyists to push through the virtual schools bill. Don't be fooled, K-12 Inc didn't do this because they care about education; they did it because they stand to make millions by starting for-profit, tuition charging schools with your tax-payer dollars.
Finally, I opposed this bill because it is a step too far. While I support virtual education programs for homebound students or for students wanting to take more advanced classes not offered in their school, I am opposed to this legislation because it promotes for-profit virtual schools as an alternative to traditional, in-classroom learning. It is irresponsible to do this because, as the National Education Policy Center points out, we have no data to show us how these for-profit virtual schools will perform against traditional public schools. Until we have this data, it is premature to use tax-payer money to open hundreds of for-profit virtual schools.
As always, if you have any questions about this new law or would like to hear more about another issue, please contact my legislative office and we'll get your questions answered as soon as possible. Have a great week!
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