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.
Virtual Charter Schools
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.
Background and Concerns
Several Wisconsin school districts are claiming that homeschoolers who enroll in their district’s virtual charter school can have the district pay some of the costs of their homeschooling and still continue to homeschool much as they have been. One example is Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA) in Merrill. For more information, see "New Version of Public School at Home Undermines Homeschooling in Wisconsin" in WPA Newsletter #112 (June 2012), page 10, reprinted here.
Summary: A virtual charter school operated by a school district in central Wisconsin claims it will purchase curriculums and/or pay for private lessons for homeschoolers who enroll in this public virtual charter school, comply with its regulations, report to school officials, and have their children take standardized tests. Although the short-term benefits may be tempting to some homeschooling families, many other homeschoolers recognize the long-term threat to homeschooling as we know it in Wisconsin.
Important Note: This article is part of WPA’s continuing work to maintain homeschooling freedoms and inform homeschoolers and others about threats to our freedoms and other serious consequences of current developments. For some families, reasons to enroll in a program like Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA) are clear immediately while the serious consequences are less obvious. This article is intended to provide missing information so families can make educated decisions. Please join other homeschoolers working together through WPA to remind homeschoolers of the importance of our homeschooling freedoms and alert them to serious threats to that freedom.
• Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA) will be unlikely to deliver the curriculum choices, including religiously based curriculum, and some other features it is claiming to offer.
• Because BVA is a public school, participating families will be regulated by the government. Former homeschoolers enrolled in BVA will surrender important freedoms.
• The program is on shaky ground. It clearly appears to be motivated more by money than education. It is likely to be challenged on questions of (1) spending taxpayers’ money without adequate accountability, (2) running a public school program without much involvement of certified teachers, and (3) violating the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state.
• Such challenges may lead to legislation to regulate programs like BVA.
• BVA is not a homeschool. (Homeschooling parents take direct responsibility for their children’s educations and do not turn them over to the public schools.) However, because BVA is a public school at home and some people falsely assume it is a homeschool, legislation to increase regulation of BVA may also increase regulation of homeschools.
• BUT, as a homeschooler, there is much you can do to join others working together through WPA to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. See “What We Can Do” below.
Summary: Recent Wisconsin legislation on virtual charter schools required the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to audit these schools. The audit report published in February 2010 is long and detailed. But close inspection reveals that it is based on unsubstantiated information provided by the schools themselves, which obviously have a vested interest in the report’s findings. Because independently verifiable information to confirm or correct the schools’ claims is not available, the report is of questionable value. This serious problem should be addressed by the Legislature when it makes decisions based on this report concerning the future of these schools.
The importance of maintaining the distinction between homeschools and public virtual charter schools.