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Opening Arguments

Virtual reality

So far, there is $7 million in Gov. Mitch Daniels' budget proposal for virtual charter schools. Given the state's financial problems, the money probably won't stay there this time around, which is understandable. But some of the rhetoric being used by the opponents of such schools shows why change is difficult:

Democrats who control the Indiana House say the state has no business funding virtual schools -- which provide more than half of a child's instruction online -- while existing public schools face budget cuts.

"These are schools that have no students in them right now," said House Ways and Means Chairman William Crawford, D-Indianapolis. "We're cutting schools that have actual students that are in need."

But there aren't two sets of students -- those now in existing schools and those who would attend the charters. They're the same pool of students, and charter proponents argue that the ones whose parents choose a virtual school will get a better education than the one they getting now. The charter critics aren't really defending "actual students in need," merely the institutions that now have the body count.

And the argument made by some that virtual schools "amount to nothing more than taxpayer-funded home schooling" is a lot less than it seems. Indiana has among the most lax home-schooling rules in the nation. Parents can keep their kids out of regular school for almost any reason or no reason at all, and they don't really have to prove much about how educated their kids are really getting at home. With the virtual schools, students will still be tied to the public school system and have to meet the same requirements and standards as the students in more traditional schools.