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Our View: Virtual schools' cap should be raised
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When virtual school legislation was passed early last year that included a cap on enrollment, we said it wouldn't be long until the number of students applying for an online education would meet the limit.

Apparently, that could happen as soon as next school year. The Wisconsin Department of Instruction has notified the state's 12 virtual schools, including Monroe's, that the number of applicants could exceed the 5,250 cap set by the state Legislature.

That's why Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, is right to make a push now to have the enrollment cap lifted by the Legislature. It would be interesting to see whether the Democratic-controlled Legislature will support online schools or the teachers union that has stood in opposition to their growth. Unfortunately, it may not even come to that. A spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle, chief promoter of the teachers union, said last week that no changes to the law would be coming this year.

Davis was instrumental in getting the legislation passed last year. It was necessitated by an appellate court ruling that the state's largest virtual school was operating in violation of open-enrollment, charter school and teacher licensing laws. The ruling eventually could have been applied to all of the state's online schools.

The enrollment cap was a compromise to allow virtual schools to continue to operate, while providing time for a state audit to determine the value of online education. The teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said it wanted evidence that virtual schools are as valid of an educational option as traditional bricks-and-mortar schools are.

Unfortunately, that audit by the DPI isn't expected to be completed until the end of this year.

Students and families, however, should not be denied their preference of education next school year while the state and its teachers wait for the audit results. If applications exceed the cap, the state would hold a lottery to decide who gets into the schools.

That isn't the right way to decide things. Just as local control is the best approach for school districts, parental control over their children's education also ought to be a priority.

During negotiations over the virtual school bill, an Assembly version put an enrollment cap at 8,760 students - which at the time would have been 1 percent of the statewide student population. As it turns out, that threshold would have been more appropriate, allowing time for the audit to be completed, while also permitting students and parents who prefer a virtual school to utilize them.

The proper course for the Legislature and Gov. Doyle to take would be to raise the cap to a point that would not force families to await lottery results to see if their children can get the kind of education they prefer.