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Our View: Virtual schools may get key legislative victory
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It appears that Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, and supporters of the state's online public schools have scored a needed legislative victory in Madison.

We'll know for sure this afternoon. A news conference is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. to announce a compromise bill on virtual schools. Davis will be there, as will Sens. John Lehman, D-Racine, and Luther Olsen, R-Ripon.

Davis and Lehman each offered virtual school bills earlier this month that would have had very different impacts.

Lehman's bill, introduced first, would have cut state funding for virtual schools in half and would have added student recruitment restrictions. His bill was popular with the state's largest teachers union, whose lawsuit against the Wisconsin Virtual Academy ultimately threatened state funding for all of the state's virtual schools, including Monroe's. But the state's virtual schools' officials, including Monroe Superintendent Larry Brown, said passage of Lehman's bill would mean the end of the online education operations.

Davis' bill, a counter to Lehman's, would have preserved state funding levels for virtual schools and solidified through legislation online schools' standing as a public education tool.

The competing bills attracted quite a bit of attention at the Capitol. On the day of a hearing on Davis' bill, hundreds of virtual school students, parents and officials rallied in a show of support.

Since then, there has been talk of the need for compromise legislation. And compromise is fine, as long as the result is not reduced funding and increased restrictions that strangle the life out of the growing form of education.

While Davis this morning couldn't say exactly what the compromise is - because it's still tentative and won't be finalized until later today - it sounds like it's the kind of compromise that can preserve the future of virtual schools.

The possibility of reducing funding for virtual schools is now off the table, Davis said. So, too, is the proposal to limit the number of out-of-district students each virtual school can enroll.

That certainly sounds like a major victory for Davis and for virtual schools. Both steps would have crippled virtual schools' ability to grow and thrive. Frankly, it's hard to imagine what other areas of "compromise" there could be - unless it's in the legislative language that could protect virtual schools from judicial override. Hopefully, the new bill will establish virtual schools as a legitimate extension of the public schools system.

There is an urgency to getting legislation established before next month, when open enrollment for Wisconsin's bricks-and-mortar schools and online schools begins. The funding question must be settled by the Legislature, as well as the future standing of online schools.

We're optimistic the compromise bill will settle those issues, and congratulate Rep. Davis in advance for the key legislative victory.