Karen Mansfield: Superintendents continue to call for cyber charter school reform
In Pennsylvania, folks still keep pushing for cyber charter funding reform–especially public school superintendents. Karen Mansfield reports.
In July, the state House of Representatives passed H.B. 1422, aimed at tightening funding and oversight of the state’s cyber charter schools. If passed into law, H.B. 1422 – which passed by a vote of 122-81 – would set a statewide flat tuition rate of $8,000 for non-special education cyber charter students, saving taxpayers an estimated $456 million a year.
“Cyber charter schools are not accountable and/or responsible to the taxpaying citizens at the same levels as public schools,” said Dr. Jesse T. Wallace III, superintendent of Laurel Highlands School District. “Any type of legislation that makes the playing field level for all educational entities is a step in the right direction.”
Wallace said the school district paid more than $2 million for cyber school tuition during the 2022-23 school year.
H.B. 1422 also would require cyber charter schools to be more transparent about operations; make their budgets, records and board meetings open to the public; consider the management companies that handle cyber schools’ finances a “local agency” for the Right-to-Know law; and impose fund balance limits on cyber schools.
In total, Pennsylvania school districts pay about $1 billion in tuition to the commonwealth’s 14 cyber charter schools, which educate 60,000 children.
School districts pay cyber charters based on the district’s per-pupil cost – currently, it ranges from about $9,000 to $24,000, depending on the district.
“Right now, there is no uniformity to it,” said Washington School District Superintendent George Lammay. “And the costs being sent to cyber schools are inflated – that’s the kindest word I can use. School districts are sending more money to cyber schools than it costs to educate children.”
Earlier this year, more than 90% of Pennsylvania school districts signed a resolution asking the General Assembly to change the funding system for cyber charters.
Lammay said he isn’t advocating for the elimination of school choice, but he wants school districts to be charged fairly for the costs of providing students with a charter school education.
“If you come to Washington School District, you can get any financial information you request. (Cyberschools) don’t show fund balances, which I do as a superintendent. Every school should be transparent about costs and expenses,” said Lammay. “That goes for academic information, too. Those entities don’t share information with us about the children who we pay for to go to their school. We can’t get their grades, attendance information, anything.”
Jefferson-Morgan School District, in rural Greene County, spent more than $300,000 on cyber charter tuition last year. The district paid on average $13,273 for a regular education student and $27,104 for a special education student.
“The costs to educate these students is too high in cyber charter schools. They don’t have the same obligations as a brick-and-mortar school has, such as building maintenance, athletics, and activities,” said Superintendent Brandon Robinson. “I think a fair cost per student that is a flat rate would be a step in the right direction to make it an even playing field.”