No More Cyber Charter Cold Calls
Not all kids are cut out for virtual learning, a fact we learned when schools shut their doors during COVID and test scores plummeted. But for some students, online instruction is their ticket to success and they have options in PA school districts.
Another option is cyber charter schools, and PA’s 13 cybers rake in a lot of taxpayer dollars. That’s probably why more cyber charter operators are asking to peddle their wares here.
We don’t need any new cyber charters for a few reasons, but mainly because they fail in their core mission – teaching kids. Research nationally and in Pennsylvania shows that cyber-charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative” impact on student learning. We have to question why we need more cyber charters in PA when 100% of them here are designated as “needing additional support” by the state.
On top of that, cyber charters are draining much-needed funds from our public schools to the tune of more than $1 billion a year, putting intense new pressure on property taxes. Even worse, cyber charters are paid the same rate as brick and mortar charter schools even though their costs are about 25% lower.
Finally, interest in cyber charters is declining. After a big run up during the pandemic, cyber charter enrollment shrank by 7% last year. In the lexicon of school choice, students are choosing with their feet, and they are choosing to return to the classroom.
Despite that, two new cyber charter schools are knocking on Pennsylvania’s education door.
Children First’s PA Charter Performance Center went on the record opposing their applications this week. Here’s why.
One claims its student performance would soar by using a for-profit vendor, Pearson Virtual Schools, for curricula, teacher training, special education, and other services. But two other cyber charters are already using Pearson and those students aren’t meeting academic standards.
The other wants to focus on students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school, a laudable goal because many of these students have significant barriers to attending school full-time. The problem is that this new cyber charter would require these very same students to attend full-time – just like every other cyber charter – so we have to ask why they should “open shop” in the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law is over 20 years old so long overdue for an update. Commonsense changes should include:
- Not paying twice for online education in school districts that already offer
- Aligning cyber tuition rates with their actual costs
- Auditing their enrollment and financial performance annually.
- Setting a uniform, statewide cyber tuition rate.
At the very least, let’s stop the unsolicited applications from new cyber charter schools and focus on improving the ones we already have.