Recently, our friends at Education Voters of PA issued a report that examines Pennsylvania’s flawed cyber school funding system and provides recommendations for a new system that will more closely match the funding sent to cyber charter schools with the actual cost of providing students with an online education.
This proposal would help control property tax increases and reduce pressure on school districts to cut teachers and programs by keeping school funding in local public schools instead of driving it into cyber charter schools, where much of this money would be wasted instead of spent educating children.
Cyber charter schools are privately-operated, publicly funded schools that educate students at home on a computer. In Pennsylvania, they are authorized by the state and funded by school districts, which are mandated by law to pay 100% of the tuition charged for each student who lives in the district and attends a cyber school.
Cyber charter schools have materially lower costs than either traditional public schools or brick and mortar charter schools. They have a higher student to teacher ratio than district schools and frequently use recorded programs that can be re-used in many classes or for students individually. Infrastructure is greatly reduced. In spite of this different cost structure, they are paid the same as brick and mortar charter schools.
In 2015, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a new school funding formula that based funding on actual student enrollment and other cost factors. This was a major step forward in correcting a decades-old, deeply flawed, and inequitable system of funding public school districts. The legislature has not yet addressed similar flaws in Pennsylvania’s system for funding cyber charter schools. With a nearly $500 million annual price tag, the funding of cyber charter schools remains just as flawed as the old system of funding basic education was, and has created eever-worseningproblems for our state’s school districts and wasted tax monies.
There is no justification for paying cyber charter schools a premium above what it costs school districts to provide a cyber education. Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools are notorious for poor academic performance.
Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows that not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools achieved a passing School Performance Profile score of 70 in any of the five years the SPP was in effect, and in 2017-2018, most were designated by PDE as among the bottom 5% of performers in the state, based on school or student subgroup performance. In addition, cyber charter school graduation rates are consistently and substantially below state averages.
Most damning, a 2015 CREDO report found that cyber charter students lost the equivalent of 72 days per year in reading and 180 days in math, the full school year in comparison to their peers who attend district schools. It was as if these students had not attended school at all that year.
Pennsylvanians simply cannot afford to continue paying poorly-performing cyber schools more than they spend educating children. We cannot afford to continue wasting precious school tax dollars on things like million-dollar cyber charter school advertising campaigns, giveaways of expensive equipment to cyber students, and inflated prices charged by private management companies.
Every year school districts struggle to balance their budgets because state funding comes up short. The time has come for lawmakers to reform funding for cyber charter schools so that school district payments match the actual cost of educating a child at home on a computer.
*Thank you to Executive Director, Susan Spicka and Education Voters of PA for this information, efforts, and reports
BASD Proud Parents is strictly pro-public education. We are an independent group with no affiliations to the BASD school board or any political parties. Our goals are to help parents stay informed about educational policy discussions and to facilitate ways for any of us who would like the chance to have our voices heard, to get more involved in those policy conversations.