Online learning takes many forms and has many names. There are online courses, programs and schools, which may be called online, virtual, cyber, or blended education, to name a few. In Wisconsin, a virtual charter school is a specific form of online learning. It is the only form of online learning which allows an open enrolled pupil to participate remotely, that is, without having to physically attend school in the nonresident school district during all the days and hours that school is in session.
A virtual charter school is defined in Wis. Stats. § 115.001 (16) as “a charter school under contract with a school board under s. 118.40 in which all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the Internet, and the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other.” Virtual charter schools are publicly funded, nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer some of their classes online. In addition, state statutes contain specific requirements that must be met by virtual charter schools. See Wis. Stats. § 118.40 (8). Pupils typically attend from their homes and communicate with teachers by e-mail, telephone, or in online discussions. It is important to note that some virtual charter schools operate under a blended learning model and require physical attendance; therefore, it is important to contact these schools and discuss expectations prior to enrollment.
- Online schooling is not the easy way out. It requires initiative and self-discipline and the ability to work independently.
- Attendance at a virtual charter school is not homeschooling, even though the pupil may primarily attend school from home. A virtual charter school is a public school authorized by a locally-elected school board, with a public school curriculum and certified teachers. Homeschooling is a home-based private education program created by the parent. Whether homeschooling or enrollment in a public virtual charter school is the better option, depends on what the parent wants.
- Pupils in virtual charter schools must attend school regularly, in whatever manner attendance is defined and monitored in the specific virtual charter school. Failure to do so could result in the pupil being dropped from the virtual charter school. Additionally, some virtual charter schools require students to physically attend a school building for a portion of the instructional time.
- Virtual charter schools are not for everyone and not all virtual charter schools operate the same way. Visit the websites of the virtual charter schools you are interested in, go to informational meetings offered by the virtual charter school, and if you have questions, contact the virtual charter school directly.
- Virtual charter schools may not offer the full educational experience offered in a traditional school. Some classes may not be available in the school you select and your resident school district is not required to permit your child to take courses in the district while open enrolled in a virtual charter school. It may not be possible for your child to participate in WIAA-sponsored athletics. [If participation in WIAA-sponsored athletics is important to you, contact the virtual charter directly to discuss eligibility.]
- Open enrollment is only available to Wisconsin residents. A pupil who is not a Wisconsin resident is not eligible to attend a Wisconsin virtual charter school free of charge. Out-of-state parents who are interested in enrolling their child on a parent-paid tuition basis should contact the virtual charter school directly.
It is common for virtual charter schools to be referred to as homeschooling and vice versa. However, in Wisconsin, these are very different. The following may assist you in differentiating between attendance at a virtual charter schools and home-schooling:
You may want a Virtual Charter School (VCS) if you want:
A public school that is publicly funded and authorized by a locally-elected school board.
A curriculum selected and adopted by a virtual charter school board that is aligned with state educational goals and standards.
To be a learning coach for your child, under the direction of certified teachers.
Your (high school) child to earn public school credits and receive a public school diploma.
You may want a Home-Based Private Educational Program if you:
Do not want to enroll your child in a public school.
Want complete responsibility to create and deliver your child’s educational program, including responsibility to select or create the curriculum.
Want to include religious instruction in your curriculum.
Want to be responsible for establishing schedules and deadlines, and set the pace for your child’s instruction.
Want to be your child’s primary teacher, or appoint your child’s primary teacher, without regard to state certification.
Want to establish your own learning goals and develop and carry out your own assessments.
1. Decide which virtual charter school you want your child to attend. Each virtual charter school is part of a school district, and you will need to know the district for the virtual charter school you choose. You can find this information by reviewing information for the virtual charter schools operating in the 2019-20 school year.
2. If you choose a school in your resident school district, contact the school to determine how to apply for the virtual charter school. If you choose a school that is not in your resident school district, your child will need to apply to the authorizing school district through the open enrollment process (see next step). You should also contract the virtual charter school directly to learn more about the school's application process.
3. Be sure to fully complete the virtual charter school pages of the open enrollment application correctly. The open enrollment application can be found on the open enrollment forms webpage.
The VCS Open Enrollment Registration Letter and Q&A – November 2019 contains information about open enrollment and the requirement for open enrolled students to physically attend school in the nonresident school district, except for those attending virtual charter schools.
To be listed on the open enrollment application as a virtual charter school, a school district must identify the school as a virtual charter school using the 2020-21 VCS Open Enrollment Identification Form.This form need only be filed once, not annually. In this form a district certifies that the school meets the requirements of a virtual charter school.
The Online and Blended Learning Guide is a resource for learning about the various forms of online learning and options available for families, schools, and educators.
In August 2016, the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued guidance to clarify some of the critical requirements in Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that apply to virtual schools.