Group: Districts overpay for cyber schools

By LAUREN CAPPUCCIO, Public Opinion(Chambersburg PA)

Local school districts pay too much under state law to fund cyber charter schools, according to a new organization dedicated to reform.

Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley, a group of parents and advocates from Chambersburg, Big Spring, Shippensburg and Carlisle, aims to save taxpayers and school districts millions of dollars by changing the funding formula.

Under current state law, when a student attends a cyber charter school his or her home school district pays tuition to the cyber charter school – an amount determined by the Department of Education and based on the district’s average cost of educating a student traditionally. The problem, according to Education Matters, is that online education is cheaper to provide, so cyber charter schools collect more than their costs, in effect overcharging local taxpayers.

There are 18 cyber charter schools licensed in Franklin County this year, serving a total of 695 students including 272 in Chambersburg Area School District alone, according to the education department. The group Education Matters calculates that every county school district overpays cyber charter schools by more than $50,000, and CASD overpays by more than $1 million annually.

Cyber school would be $1,337,300, the group said. But the district paid $2,358,409 in cyber charter school tuition, handing the companies a profit of $1,021,109.

Susan Spicka, community liaison for Education Matters, said the excess cost is “overwhelming” for local

“This year our state lawmakers have a chance to eliminate wasteful spending in public schools and save Franklin County taxpayers $2 million annually, simply by fixing the broken formula they use to pay cyber charter schools,” Spicka said.

“I understand the sentiment of school choice,” said Jim T. Duffey, superintendent of Fannett-Metal School District, “but the problem comes down to cost to the district.” Fannett-Metal is small, yet just under $300,000 of its budget goes toward cyber charter schools, he said.

There is also debate about the quality of education that cyber schools provide as opposed to traditional schools.

In April 2011, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), an independent research organization at Stanford University, issued a report on Pennsylvania Charter School Performance.

The report said most Pennsylvania cyber charter schools have never made the AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, toward the state Department of Education’s benchmarks for reading and math skills. Some state-licensed cyber schools, such as PA Learners Online Cyber School and PA Distance Learning Cyber School have not made AYP in years….

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