Cuts To Cyber Charters in Pennsylvania Cause Ed Reform Split

In Pennsylvania, recent legislation has torn apart its support as it seems to favor one set of schools over the other, as regulations favor public charter schools over cyber charter schools, leaving the latter frustrated.

Fractures among charter school administrators, parents, and allies in education reform organizations has risen after a recent push to bring the state Senate bill 1085 forward.

“Our opponents have done a superb job of dividing up our movement,” said James Hanak, CEO of PA Leadership Charter School, a cyber charter based in West Chester.

S.B. 1085 would be the first legislation in 16 years to address regulation of Pennsylvania’s 174 public charter schools, including 15 cyber charter schools if it wins approval. Without taking a vote, the state Senate adjourned until December. S.B. 1085 has frustrated the cyber charter community for the bill’s provision to cut funding to cyber charter schools by up to 10%, despite bipartisan sponsors and support from a broad coalition of education organizations.

According to Maura Pennington of Watchdog.org, a proposed fix for a pension “double-dip” that eliminates the Public School Employee Retirement System reimbursement from the state would result in a 2% to 5% cut in funds going to cyber charter schools. There is an additional across-the-board cut of 5%. Cyber charter schools would have to operate at 60% of the budget of a traditional public school with the funding cuts. Hanak, the leader of a cyber charter school created a website to explain the impact of recent reform attempts.

“The rationale being used to sell these cuts is that Cyber Charter Schools can function on less money; therefore they do not need as much,” Hanak said  on the website.

By law, a significant portion of the curriculum of cyber charter schools is delivered over the internet. Despite cyber charters having costs for technology and faculty, they lack legacy costs for buildings and infrastructure.

“The reasons being used to cut resources for charter and cyber charter schools are in fact the very reasons that these innovative schools should be given more resources,” Hanak said. “Students seeking us out really want to learn.”

Every lesson at PALCS has an assessment, graded by the computer so parents, students and teachers can know exactly where a student needs attention.

“There’s more opportunity for better student-teacher connection because there’s so much one-on-one,” Hanak said.

Parents are coming forward to oppose the reform measure because of the funding cuts as public cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania educate 34,000 children.

“These aren’t funds that are going back to taxpayers, but instead will go into the bottomless pits of school district budgets that have shown no ability to control spending,” Monica Allison, president of PA Families for Public Cyber Schools said in a statement released Friday.

Representatives of cyber charter schools have doubts about the legislation and its ability to achieve real improvements despite the inclusion of independent university authorities in S.B. 1085.

“I want all public schools to be treated equally,” Hanak said.