No New Cyber Charter Schools in Pennsylvania This Year

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) declined proposals for six new cyber charter schools, which would have allowed students to attend school from home using a computer. The state currently has 14 cyber-charter schools that have had bleak results academically from their 35,000 students, who scored below state averages.

Pennsylvania's cyber charters have drawn criticism from academics and the state auditor general because of their use of public funds.

Six new organizations hoped to create cyber charters in Pennsylvania and after hearing their testimony, education department officials said they planned on reviewing their applications with "a laser focus, while increasing the rigor of the review process."

They then sent rejection letters to all six of the prospective schools, including HOPE Leadership Cyber Charter of Philadelphia, Insight PA Cyber Charter of Philadelphia, Acclaim Cyber Charter School of Worthville, Synergy Cyber Charter of Oakmont, Provost Academy Cyber Charter School of Cranberry Township and iSEEK Academy Cyber Charter School of Yardley. The rejection letters all stated that there were deficiencies in certain areas, including governance, technology, curriculum, finance, application requirements, sustainable support, use of physical facilities, special education and more.

David Lapp, senior attorney at the Education Law Center, testified against the new applicants, saying that cyber classes have proven to be ineffective for students. He was happy with the department's decision and said the state needs to do more to ensure that the current cyber charter schools are held to a higher standard. He also feels this decision should encourage lawmakers to go "back to the drawing board" to find new ideas that work.

"There's no question that the Internet and use of technology is going to [have] an expanding role in what we do in public education," he said. "But we do think that the department and our state laws need to be changed to empower the department to do more as far as oversight is concerned with the existing programs we have."

Robert Fayfich from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter schools said that the PDE should set a high bar for applicants, and should hold them to high quality standards. He also said that "this decision to deny all six applications does not impact the ability of parents to choose among the … existing cyber charter schools to find the best educational fit for the needs of their children."

Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania cost the state $366.6 million each year. The department denied eight cyber charter school applications last year.

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