New report claims $250M savings from cyber-charter funding reform

    Photo from Flickr Commons

    A progressive advocacy group says fixing the way Pennsylvania funds cyber-charter schools would save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year, cut down on waste at the schools, and improve student outcomes.

    The group, Education Voters of Pa., says it wants lawmakers to set a statewide tuition rate for the online schools at a flat $5,000, per-student. Right now, tuition payments to the cyber-charters can range from $7,300 to more than $40,000/student each year, the report claims, at an annual cost of more than $463 million.

    The $5,000, per-pupil rate could “be adjusted annually as education costs rise over time. For a special education rate for cyber charter schools, we recommend using the special education formula to create a weighted average and applying that weighted average to the base rate. This yields a tuition rate of $8,865,” the report recommends.

    Making the fix would save the state more than $250 million a year, the report concludes.

    “Cyber-charter school tuition bills harm both taxpayers and students who remain in district schools,” the group’s executive director, Susan Spicka, said in a statement. “When a student and his tuition go to a cyber charter school, not all of the student’s cost leaves the district school. For example, the school district doesn’t pay less for heat or for maintaining buildings and grounds when some students leave the district. When a handful of students in each grade leave, the district can’t cut teachers to reduce costs without significantly raising class sizes or eliminating courses. As a result, school districts are often forced to raise property taxes, increase class sizes, or cut educational programs in order to pay cyber school tuition bills.”

    As a refresher, cyber-charter schools are privately operated, but publicly funded schools, that educate children in their homes via computer. Critics have long complained that the system drains resources away from public schools and that students in the online institutions often receive an education inferior to the one they’d receive in a brick-and-mortar public school.

    The new report re-asserts that argument.

    “If cyber charter schools improved student educational outcomes in Pennsylvania, an argument might be made to justify paying them a premium above what it costs them to educate children,” Spicka continued. “Regrettably, this is not the case. Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools are notorious for poor academic performance,” Spicka said.

    Education reform advocates and cyber-charter supporters have argued the first responsibility is to make sure parents have a full range of choices in educating their children.

    “Our public education goals should be opportunity and access for all students not preservation of incumbent school systems,” Stephen DeMaura of the pro-charters Excellent Schools Pa., wrote in Feb. 7 post to Twitter.

    Read the full report below:

    Ed Voters Short Cyber Chart… by on Scribd

    John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.

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