Online Charter Schools Hit And Miss Across Nation

In Indiana, charter schools are flourishing. In Pennsylvania, they are "a mess." Why are they doing so well in one state, but so poorly in another?

The Indiana Cyber Charter School took a hit of around $500,000 a year even though it more than doubled its enrollment in its two-year lifespan. According to a recent state audit, the school is making up for that shortfall with an unsecured loan at 12% interest. Indiana Cyber Charter School CEO Donald Williams said the online charter school accrued much of debt in its first year open.

"We incurred considerable debt, and we were losing money," he said. "When you grow that quickly and with the current (Indiana) funding formula, you have to take out a line of credit. It's under control now."

Formerly headquartered in Schererville, the online charter school moved to Avon recently. It is 100% online and has three state board certified teachers and three regular staff members that watch over students' academic journeys. Though it started with only 77 pupils in grades K-12, the charter school has grown to 242 students across the state.

At an estimated $5,000 per student, the charter school is more expensive per student than Indiana's public school districts. Examples of public district cost estimates per student include:

  • $4,750, School Town of Munster
  • $4,847, Crown Point Community School Corp.
  • $4,866, Tri-Creek School Corp.
  • $4,939, Duneland School Corp.
  • $4,862, Valparaiso Community School Corp.

In Pennsylvania, State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D- Pennsylvania) has called the oversight of charter schools "a mess." He based this opinion on a set of public meetings across the state, writes Martha Woodall for The Inquirer.

DePasquale recently called for an implementation of an independent charter oversight board, restoration charter reimbursements for school districts, and asking the commonwealth to pay for online charter schools. DePasquale said taxpayer-funded charter schools are here for good. They are attended by more than 120,000 in Pennsylvania alone. He believes a rewrite of the 1997 state law that allowed them to open is long overdue.

The report that he recently released drew on comments and complaints made at five current public meetings across the commonwealth on the accountability and effectiveness of charter schools. He also said charter school operators and critics told him that there was a shortage of direction and oversight that caused problems within the charter system, reports Woodall.

An independent statewide charter oversight board would provide needed direction, clarity, and guidance, DePasquale said. The board could be partly paid for with the funds that the Education Department now spends on its charter office.

"With more than $1 billion being spent on charter schools every year," according to the report, "improved oversight is imperative."

The board would hear arguments between charter schools and districts, lay down the law on regulations, create an efficient appeals process, and look into the information that charter schools provide in annual reports to the state.

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