Teachers from the Cyber Charter School of Pennsylvania have decided to become members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state's largest teachers' union, and will become the first charter school members of the organization.
After the teachers' votes (71-34 in favor) are certified by the National Labor Relations Board, and the teachers have adopted a constitution and bylaws and elected officers, collective bargaining will begin. Michael Conti, CEO of PA Cyber which owns the Cyber Charter School, says that he believes in and supports all teachers, unionized or not. The decision to join PSEA was made for the good of their students, Conti explained.
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is one of 14 cyber schools in the state. There are also 162 brick and mortar charter schools and regional charter schools in the state.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver County) wants cyber charter schools to be funded by the state instead of being by its 500 public school districts. Maura Pennington a PA Independent reporter writing for Mainline Media News, writes that Christiana has introduced House Bill 2174 for just that purpose.
Unlike brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber charter schools can teach students from across the commonwealth without limiting them to a home district. The schools are authorized at the state level rather than by local school districts.
According to Christiana, cyber charter schools essentially encompass a statewide district.
This potentially creates 500 separate funding formulas for the about 32,000 children in cyber charter schools.
Jim Hanak, CEO of PA Leadership Charter School, is afraid that this type of funding could result in disaster for cyber charter schools. Hanak believes that an anti-cyber charter school legislator could decide to cut off funding to a school. The bill was sent to the House Education Committee last week.
PA Cyber came under scrutiny in July 2012, when federal agents searched its offices. Its founder, Nick Trombetta, who left the school in June 2012, later pleaded not guilty to charges that he had diverted nearly $1 million for personal use.
Trombetta was founder and CEO of PA Cyber School. He founded, and was formerly CEO, of the National Network of Digital Schools. The NNDS managed PA Cyber for a 12% of revenue payment. PA Cyber manages its own classrooms and staff, and NNDS does everything else. Reporting for TribLive News, Megan Harris adds that Trombetta's contract as the school's curriculum advisor remains in place.
Pennsylvania legislators say that the outdated charter school laws adopted during the early days of the Internet need overhauling. The stopgap measures of that time need adjustment in the wake of Trombetta's charges. Legislators believe that cyber schools are pocketing more money than just what is needed for operational costs.
Cyber charter schools are approved and overseen by the State Department of Education. The main issue, for lawmakers and educators alike, is oversight of the schools. State Education Committee minority chairman Rep. Jim Roebuck (D-Philadelphia) says that the Department of Education lacks sufficient staffing to oversee charter schools as closely as needed.
There are no complaints about the quality or substance of the education students receive from cyber charters. Roebuck says there needs to be more accountability on the part of the cyber charter schools.