Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board: Cyber charter school funding must change
The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has taken a stand in favor of long-overdue changes to Pennsylvania’s cyber charter funding system. The newspaper typically gets a lot wrong when it comes to true public schools, but here they get the main point right.
An inequitable and blatantly unfair funding formula for cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania has inflated the amount of money they receive — at the expense of other public schools.
The problem has a simple solution. Instead of fixing it, however, legislators have let it fester, as enrollments at the state’s 14 cyber charter schools, fueled by the pandemic, have soared. Between 2019 and 2020, enrollments rose from about 38,000 students to roughly 60,000 students.
With that growth, cyber charters have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts from traditional public schools. In effect, the funding formula has created two separate systems of public education.
Here’s the problem: Under state law, cyber charter schools, which are public, are paid the same per-student rate as are traditional brick-and-mortar schools. But cyber charters operate without some of the fixed costs of traditional schools, such as building maintenance.
Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts pay different per-pupil rates: Cyber charters might receive $10,000 per student per year or more than $20,000.
Whatever the rate, the costs per pupil in cyber charter schools are roughly 30 percent below traditional public schools, according to most estimates.