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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

Virtual School Isn’t a Public School

Court rules against taxpayer-funded home-schooling scheme

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At issue was whether the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA) complies with state laws on charter schools, open enrollment and teacher licensing. While the school is technically located in Fredonia and employs some staff, most of its students and teachers live outside the district. Some state-certified teachers work with students, but the court found that they only spend about four hours a month interacting with those students, in addition to exchanging some e-mails. In contrast, unpaid, uncertified parents do most of the teaching in the virtual school system.

Not surprisingly, the appellate court disagreed with WIVA’s description of the parents’ responsibilities. While WIVA argued that parents are responsible for “continuous progress through the curriculum,” the court decided that was, in plain English, “teaching.”

“We wish to emphasize that the issue in this case is not simply what the parents do, but what the school requires them to do in order for the school to function,” the unanimous decision reads. “We underscore that no one is suggesting that a parent assisting his or her child to whatever extent the parent finds necessary is ‘illegal.’ The question is not whether and how a parent may assist his or her child with schoolwork; rather, it is whether the District can establish a public school, using public funds, that relies upon unlicensed individuals as the primary teachers of the pupils. The problem is not that the unlicensed WIVA parents teach their children, but that they ‘teach in a public school.’” The district received $5,845 from the state for every nonresident student enrolled in the system. In the previous school year, the district received $3.6 million more than it would have without the virtual school program in place.

Resistance: New state Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Schofield) is proving to be more independent than his predecessor, state Sen. Judy Robson (DBeloit). Decker, who came to power in a post-budget coup, seems to be less likely to agree with the top Democrat in the state, Gov. Jim Doyle. Doyle and Decker disagree on the governor’s statewide smoking ban, his attempt to call a special session on campaign finance reform this week and his proposal to require insurance providers to cover autism. We applaud Decker’s independence and willingness to stand up to the governor. We only wish he would oppose Doyle on other issues, not issues where Doyle is actually halfway progressive.

For What It’s Worth:Wisconsin Right to Life’s PAC endorsed former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson for president—and Thompson needs that help. Not only do many conservatives question his record on abortion—Thompson doesn’t want a constitutional ban on abortion, and he lobbied on behalf of a family-planning association in 1991—but he’s also stalled in the polls. Thompson seems to be running a consistent third or fourth nationally, behind Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. In Wisconsin, the latest UW-Madison Badger poll has Thompson leading the Republican pack with 30% of the Republican vote. But since our Feb. 19 primary will be held about two weeks after Super Tuesday—when the nominee most likely will be decided—the anti-abortion group’s endorsement may not mean much.

Can’t Quit Her: Although Sen. Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with a negative favorability rating in the latest Badger Poll, she’s the candidate most likely to be named as who Wisconsin residents want to be the next president. The poll asked if there was one person that the survey respondent would like to see elected president next year: Hillary blew all other candidates out of the water. Clinton received 84 mentions, while Sen. Barack Obama followed in second with 39 mentions. Former Sen. John Edwards received 19 mentions, while Rudy Giuliani was the most frequently mentioned Republican with 13 mentions.

What’s Really Offensive: The Federal Communications Commission is considering relaxing rules on ownership of the airwaves, which will lead to more right-wing radio ranters who can drive up profits for their corporate backers, and to less independent sources that provide a diversity of opinion. To show what we’re likely to hear more of if the scheme goes through, One Wisconsin Now created a video of offensive hosts. Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Mark Belling and others are captured slandering Iraqis, peace activists, Democrats, gays and lesbians, families of 9/11 victims, immigrants, fat people and many, many more. To check out the video and learn more about the FCC’s plans to favor media monopolies, go to www.onewisconsinnow.org.

Catholics Challenge Marquette’s Commitment to Peace: A group of Marquette students and alumni and other Catholics are asking Marquette University: Why are you hosting programs that teach violence, in contradiction to the peaceful teachings of the Catholic faith? The group has requested that Marquette President Father Robert Wild stop the university from hosting a department of military science. The university also trains members of the Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). While the group believes that students should have access to information about the military—and providing it means that the university could still receive federal grants—it also argues that Marquette shouldn’t host programs that are “endorsing values contrary to the Gospel and teaching of the Church,” it said in a statement.

Waukesha Water Contest: The city of Waukesha is facing a water crisis because of radium contamination in its deep wells, but it is also facing a credibility crisis with environmentalists who aren’t sure the community does enough to conserve water. The city maintains that it has one of the most aggressive conservation plans in the region, limiting water usage during certain hours and charging higher rates for its biggest users. But to try to drive the message home, the Waukesha Water Utility plans to hold a contest for conservation. Some 250 families have signed up to prove that they can reduce their water consumption by the greatest amount. The top prize is a year’s worth of free water and a $500 cash reward. The challenge begins Jan. 1 and will last throughout 2008.

The Doctor’s In: Dale Wamboldt, also known as Dr. Destruction, has decided not to run for mayor of Kenosha. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have a celebration, of sorts. The man who hosts “Dr. Destruction’s Crimson Theatre,” a show on Milwaukee and Kenosha cable access channels that plays B-grade horror movies, plans to hold a party for the sixth anniversary of his show at Club Anything, 807 S. Fifth Street, starting at 9 p.m. on Dec. 20. He will also perform with his rock band, “Die, Monster, Die,” at the Goth bar.

Condolences: The Shepherd Express staff would like to send our sympathies to Cassandra Cassandra, “Morning Magazine” co-host on WMCS-AM (1290) with Joel McNally. The much-loved broadcaster’s son, Christopher Roberson, was shot on Saturday, leaving a wife, three children and one on the way. On the air Cassandra thanked listeners for their prayers and, showing great strength in the midst of tragedy, also asked that we pray for the family of the shooter as well.

The Salvation Army Needs You: Volunteers are needed at the Salvation Army Toy Shop next week, where an estimated 100,000 donated toys will be distributed to needy parents. Volunteers are needed for four-hour shifts on Monday, Dec. 17, through Friday, Dec. 21, at 5880 N. 60th St. To sign up, contact Joy Cony at 302- 4300 ext. 2163, or joy_cony@usc.salvationarmy. org or Karyn at ext. 2287.