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Virtually the same education? No.

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A recent article in The Gazette touted the many “benefits” of virtual academies.

However, Carroll School Superintendent Greg Smith failed to give the whole story. Comparing parent-directed home school to public virtual school is like comparing breastfeeding to infant formula, which is an inferior, watered-down version with the real risks hidden.

When parents enroll their child in a full-time, virtual school, they sign away much of their parental right to direct their child's education.

Virtual schools gloss over this surrender by focusing on the "free benefits." The same education establishment that fought home schooling years ago is beginning to see benefits of home-based virtual schools.

Is that because school officials are beginning to see the benefits of home schooling? The answer is a resounding "No!"

The issue is money and control. All public schools, including virtual schools, are funded based on attendance.

When a home-schooler enrolls in a home-based virtual school program, that school usually receives the same amount of funds for the student as if the child were attending the local public school.

This is thousands of dollars per child. The difference is that the virtual school does not have to provide teachers, classrooms and related expenses of an on-site program. Enrolling in a home-based virtual school creates a little public school in your home.

There are approximately 2 million home schooled children in the U.S. and the number increases every year. Public school systems are in fear of this and are attempting to stem the tide by disguising virtual schooling as real home-schooling.

Home School Legal Defense Association is opposed to home-based virtual schools, primarily because the flip side of the "free benefits" coin is not Lady Liberty — it's a door to increased "accountability checks": certified teacher oversight, curriculum approval, mandatory testing, and sometimes even home inspections.

Ultimately, as these requirements grow, they will squelch one of the greatest benefits to home education — flexibility to accommodate each child's learning style and interests.

HSLDA believes there should be less control and interference with parents' rights to direct the education of their children.

Standardized test results indicate that home schooled students score on average 30 percent above the national average.

Private home-schoolers have already demonstrated that state funding and regulation are not necessary to achieve academic excellence.

Much to the delight of school administrators, students in virtual schools will also raise a public school's Standards of Learning scores, which is not a true reflection of the school's performance because it is parents, not public school teachers, who are actually teaching them.

Oh, and by the way, in this virtual school foray, Carroll schools are partnering with K12, Inc. which is backed by the for-profit firm Knowledge Universe, the brainchild of convicted felon and junk bond king, Michael Milken.

Our local home school support group is Southwest Virginia Home Educators and covers Carroll and Grayson Counties, Galax and beyond. We have a wide variety of offerings including social activities, fieldtrips, clubs, book sales, curriculum options, history fairs, music groups, sports teams, nature hikes, academic support and co-ops.

The group offers advice and answers home-schooling questions. Please visit our Web site at www.swvahe.webs.com.

America's Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to keep the state checked by the law in order to keep the private sphere truly free.

Every home schooling family needs to be informed. Know your rights, read your state home schooling law, and consider carefully the implications of a decision to enroll in a home-based virtual school.