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For now, at least, not too many home-schoolers will be making the leap to virtual public schools; a law passed in Colorado in 1998 forbids students who aren't already in public school from switching to a virtual public school the following year. Legislators feared that an exodus of home- and private-schoolers to virtual public schools would drain the state's education budget. But numerous critics of the law, who find it discriminatory and unconstitutional, are trying to get it overturned this legislative session. Pamela Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, has been pushing to amend the law, and she's working to find legislators interested in sponsoring a bill to provide equal access to virtual schools.

The HSLDA's Klicka plans to keep an eye on the Colorado law this year -- he already thinks it's unfair for home-school parents to have to pay taxes for public schools that their kids don't attend; if private- and home-school students are allowed to make the switch to virtual charter schools, he says, they'll have to start footing the bill for another public-school program that they don't support. "You're really raising taxes for everyone with this," he explains. "You can say that it's just pulling money from public schools and giving it to charter schools, but research has shown that over half of all virtual-charter-school students [in other states] are coming from private or home schools."

Already, some parents are learning how to bypass the law. According to Benigno, "districts can get around the statute by allowing the student to enroll in [a regular public] school and sit in the classroom through the October 1 count date for pupil funding. Then the student can return home to finish the school year as an online student. Another allowable circumstance is when the home-schooled student spent at least ninety hours in a public school the previous year."

Sibbi Yarger is one parent who's taking advantage of the loophole. Yarger, who's been home-schooling her eleven children for more than ten years, decided on COVA for three of her children who were young enough to enroll last fall; she chose COVA because it's convenient -- she no longer has to spend several hours each week preparing lessons -- and because the curriculum ensures that her kids will know the basics.

One of her sons, a fourth-grader whom she wants to enroll next year when COVA expands through grade five, wasn't eligible, since he was coming from a home school rather than a public school. To make him eligible, Yarger had her son attend the Academy of Charter Schools during the fall pupil count. According to her interpretation of the statutory provision, he is currently on the books as a public-school student and will be able to partake in COVA next fall.

Even though three of her children are now technically public-school students, Yarger, who lives in Woodland Park, still classifies herself as a home-schooler. And although she has always provided her children with a Christian-based education, she doesn't see COVA as a threat. After all, she says, nothing is stopping her from supplementing their public-school courses with Bible lessons. "I am still able to make my own choices, and I still feel I have control of what we're doing," she says. "I haven't experienced anything inappropriate in the learning material, and I'd be really surprised if the curriculum pushes heavy evolution. It will probably be mentioned, though, and I think it should be."

Goossen shares this view. "I very much believe in choice for parents. I also believe in maintaining home-school freedoms as they are," she says. "I mean, I'm one of the pioneers, but I don't see a threat to home schooling. There are those who fear that anything that smells like home schooling but is regulated will bleed over into home schooling, but I disagree with that, because we have a statute that protects home-schooling rights, and we're careful to watch for bleed-overs. If a virtual school is the best people think they can do for their family, more power to them."

So far, Yarger hasn't received any direct opposition from other home-schoolers for choosing COVA, but she has read the warnings about virtual charter schools on the Internet. "It's not classical home schooling, but classical home schooling is different for every family," she says. "I can understand a caution from the HSLDA, for example, but I think they've gone a bit overboard. They aren't giving virtual schools a chance.

"I think virtual schools open a door for a lot of people who are not religious and who want a good, solid curriculum," she adds. "And it's a unique opportunity for people who have always wanted to home-school but didn't know where to start."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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