Summary: WPA’s predictions are coming true: Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA) in Merrill is unable to deliver what it promised to families who enrolled. Instead, in response to the DPI’s letter stating that BVA was not complying with state statutes, BVA has virtually no religiously based curriculum and materials on its list of “BVA Approved Curricular Materials.” It has increased the role played by the certified public school teachers it has hired and given them the final say and is requiring families to use a software system called Project Foundry so that BVA teachers can plan, monitor, track, and grade students’ work.
Issues and Legislation
Questions are being raised about whether or when public schools in Wisconsin and other states should adopt Common Core standards proposed by the federal government and begin using the accompanying standardized tests. WPA has opposed public school standards since they were first introduced in the 1980s and continues to oppose them. Homeschoolers have handled the indirect effects that previous public school standards have had on us and should be able to handle the effects of Common Core in ways suggested below. Since this is a public school issue, homeschoolers who want to directly oppose Common Core should respond as concerned citizens, rather than as homeschoolers. Ideas for such responses are given below.
Note: In June, 2012, Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA), a public virtual charter school in Merrill, Wisconsin, claimed it would provide families with curriculums and lessons (such as music, gymnastics, etc.) as long as they enrolled in a public school, reported to the school periodically, and took state tests. The DPI has stated that BVA is violating Wisconsin law governing virtual charter schools. If BVA is not in compliance by December 2, 2013, the DPI will not pay BVA the state tax dollars it is expecting and would receive if it were in compliance with state statutes, an amount around $5,000,000. WPA continues to warn parents that it is risky to enroll in BVA both because students may not receive credit for work they have done and BVA undermines homeschooling freedoms.
Using the Wisconsin open records statute, WPA obtained a copy of DPI letter (see PDF below) sent to the Merrill School District on the September 20, 2013.
No action is needed at this time.
Thank you for your emails and calls in response to WPA’s emails on Sept 19 and 26, 2013, concerning proposed legislation to allow homeschoolers to play on public school sports teams. WPA continues to strongly oppose such legislation which would threaten the homeschooling freedoms of all of us.
On September 25th, a WPA representative met with Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, the legislator who was seriously considering introducing the legislation. He said that your emails and calls had been effective and co-sponsorship for the bill had dried up. To date, no legislation has been introduced.
WPA will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.
For more information, including the text of WPA’s previous emails, see below.
The WPA Board
• evaluate what you hear from other sources about the proposed sports bill and
• talk with others.
Please read the following. No other action is needed right now.
You may have heard that allowing homeschoolers to play public school sports has not led to increased regulation of all homeschoolers in any of the 30 states that allow it.
WPA’s response: Most other states require more of homeschoolers than Wisconsin, so they did not need to increase regulation. They require standardized testing, review and approval of curriculum, and/or reports to school officials. Wisconsin requires none of these.
In order for Wisconsin homeschoolers to qualify to play sports, most likely either (1) public schools, the WIAA, and the general public would have to agree to accept parents’ word and PI-1206 report forms as enough, or (2) new requirements would have to be instituted for homeschool athletes to meet.
Given the skepticism, criticism, and sometimes animosity with which homeschooling in general is regarded, the strong competition for the few prized spots on public school sports teams, and the emotion that surrounds sports, it seems unlikely that legislators, public schools, the WIAA, and much of the general public would accept option (1).
Option (2) would mean that new state requirements would be placed on the few homeschoolers who want to play public school sports. It’s impossible to say for sure what would happen once these requirements were in place and accepted by athletes. Perhaps the requirements would not be placed on all homeschoolers. Perhaps they would. Just because they were not imposed on all homeschoolers in states that already had stronger state regulation does NOT mean they would not be imposed on all homeschoolers in Wisconsin. One thing is clear. Wisconsin homeschoolers would be one giant step closer to the state regulation that we have fought against for 30 years.
You may have heard that Representative Thiesfeldt, the author of this bill, may amend it to build a “firewall” to protect homeschoolers from what he now recognizes as possible encroachments on homeschooling freedoms that his original bill could lead to. Although his changes have not been finalized, the basic idea seems to be to require agencies that govern public school sports (such as the WIAA) to accept a written statement from a homeschooling parent without any independent oversight or verification and to prohibit the DPI from writing regulations that could override this provision.
In response to Rep. Thiesfeldt’s invitation, a WPA representative met with him on September 25th and explained that such amendments were highly unlikely to be acceptable to the Wisconsin Legislature, and, even if they were, the Representative could not in any way guarantee that these protections would not be removed before the bill became law. In addition, even if the bill passed as he proposed, it could be changed during a future legislative session.
You may hear that WPA’s position is too strong, that WPA is unreasonable in not being willing to risk having homeschoolers play public school sports. However, Wisconsin has one of the best homeschooling laws in the country precisely because homeschoolers working together through WPA have taken such strong stands, beginning in January 1984 when we agreed not to accept any unnecessary state regulation. WPA knows that freedom is not easily won and maintained. It requires sacrifice and taking strong, sometimes unpopular stands. Families gain some helpful things and lose others when they choose to homeschool. WPA will continue to take such strong stands. Will you stand with us or do you want to risk living and homeschooling under unnecessary state regulation?
The WPA Board
Here is information to supplement Part 1 of this email. Please read Part 1 first.
Why YOUR Call NOW Is Important
• It will be much easier to prevent this legislation from passing if we act now and nip it in the bud before it is introduced.
• This issue affects all Wisconsin homeschoolers, including YOU, even if you don’t plan to participate in public schools. Once in place, these the new requirements for homeschool athletes could easily be applied to all homeschoolers, and there would be pressure to do so, especially since some school officials, social workers, legislators, and others are continuing to look for opportunities to increase state regulation of homeschooling.
When a similar bill was introduced in 1999 (see details below), it was clear from testimony by both the DPI and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) that they would use the opportunity to require that homeschoolers demonstrate to public school officials that their homeschools meet standards set by public schools.
The slippery slope of increased state regulation of all homeschoolers is the major problem with this bill. Imagine having to prove to the DPI or your local school district that your homeschool meets public school standards and that your children have the required grade point average. This would put homeschoolers under the thumb of the DPI and/or our local school districts, exactly where we have worked very hard for the past 30 years NOT to be. It is clear that our homeschooling freedoms are more secure without the new requirements that would be imposed on homeschool athletes.
• Over the years, the few Wisconsin homeschooling families who were interested in participating in public school programs have worked things out without legislation, by asking whether their individual desire might jeopardize the Wisconsin homeschooling law and then consistently putting the homeschooling law ahead of their personal desires, even when it meant that their homeschooled children could not play public school sports unless they attended public school.
• The major way a grassroots organization can affect legislation is by contacting legislators. Phone calls are usually effective. It’s important not to be discouraged by the fact that our calls asking the Governor to veto a provision in the Budget Bill were not effective. A good part of the reason for this was that calls being taken by the Governor’s staff were not recorded or reported consistently. (In response to a question from WPA, the staffer taking the calls said that callers’ names and contact information were “recorded if the caller asked that it be.” Also, the records of calls were put into a “Homeschool Reform” folder but, according to the staffer, were not forwarded to the Education Policy Consultant for the Governor or to anyone else in particular. When asked who had access to the “Homeschool Reform” folder, the staffer said he didn’t know.)
• As WPA has long explained, accepting favors from the government will lead to increased state regulation of homeschooling. Recent evidence supporting this position came from a legislative hearing on a bill that Wisconsin State Sen. Luther Olsen introduced to increase accountability of private schools that accept public money. Senator Olsen, a Republican, said, “It's important that the Legislature be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. No matter if you're a public school, a charter school or a choice school, if you get a check, you're going to get a checkup." Senator Tim Cullen, a Democrat, pointed out that private schools that take public money through vouchers will be treated more like public schools. "Welcome to the public arena. We all live in it. It isn't always pretty. But that's the price you're going to pay if you enter it." Source: http://www.sheboyganpress.com/viewart/20130912/SHE0101/309120261/Catholic-voucher-schools-oppose-testing-bill
What Happened When Similar Legislation Was Introduced in 1999
A similar bill aimed at allowing homeschoolers to play public school sports was introduced in 1999. Three hundred people attended a legislative hearing on the bill. One hundred thirty one people registered against the bill and only four in favor of it. Eleven testified against the bill and only four testified in favor, including the legislator who introduced the bill and a representative of the DPI, who saw an opportunity to increase regulation of homeschools. The bill died in committee.
For more details, here is an article from WPA Newsletter #62, December, 1999.
Read this part first. Then for more information, see Part 2.
- Contact your Wisconsin Senator and Assembly Representative now and ask them not to co-sponsor proposed legislation LRB 2032/3 “Equal Access to Athletics and Extracurricular Activities.”
- Ask family and friends to call their Wisconsin Senators and Assembly Representatives.
- Contact Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac, the legislator proposing the bill and ask him not to introduce it. 608-266-3156 or 888-529-0052.
Lessons for Homeschoolers from the Battle of the Budget Bill: Why Homeschoolers Won’t Join Other Private Schools in Selling Out to the Government
Note: This article is from WPA Newsletter #116, June 2013, which will be mailed to WPA members soon.
Summary: Accepting tax credits and deductions, opportunities to participate in public school programs, and other favors from the government will undermine our homeschooling freedoms. Here are a summary of the reasons and suggestions for how to do the important work of communicating this idea to our legislators and others.
Note: As of this writing, final version of the Budget Bill has not been passed. Whatever the outcome, this article contains important information that you need now and will need in the future. It addresses issues that will not go away and are, in fact, likely to get worse.
The current debate over Common Core State Standards is a continuation of many efforts by the federal and state governments since the 1980s to reform public schools by establishing standards and requiring public schools to comply with them. Initiatives such as Goals 2000, America 2000, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top all included standards. The version known as “Common Core State Standards” was announced in June 2009, and is sponsored by the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and supported by most of the educational establishment. It also has widespread support from both political parties. Standards are one of the major reasons for the federal and state educational databases (discussed in the previous WPA Newsletter #114, page 13).
Opposition to Common Core State Standards is coming from some conservative organizations, some liberals, and teachers in New York state and Washington state who are boycotting them by refusing to administer tests associated with the standards.
Homeschoolers are not directly affected by these standards. Private schools, including homeschools, are not currently required to comply and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future, especially since these kinds of initiatives are ineffective, have not worked in the past, and are now being opposed by teachers.
WPA has opposed state and federal education standards for more than 20 years and continues to do so. Among the problems with standards are the facts that they take power away from families and local schools and give it to the government, emphasize one-size-fits-all education that does not work for many if not most children, and rely heavily on standardized testing that is unfair and inaccurate and interferes with learning.
Summary: Federal and state databases are gathering increasing amounts of personal data on public school students and undermine privacy. From the beginning, they have been supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Homeschoolers and other private school students are not supposed to be included, but parents need to take responsibility for understanding the issues involved, not being misled by inaccurate statements about the databases, and ensuring that their children are not included.