McCarter, Sturla seek to amend the way cyber charter schools are funded

HARRISBURG, June 7 – At a Capitol news conference today, state Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, and House Democratic Policy Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, called attention to legislation that would amend the Public School Code to change the way cyber charter schools are funded.

Their bill — H.B. 1206 — seeks to cap the amount of funding unaffiliated cyber charter schools receive for students who live in an area in which the school district or an intermediate unit operates its own cyber charter school. Under their proposal, unaffiliated cyber charter schools would receive either the per-student funding amount of the school district cyber school program or the intermediate unit cyber school program, whichever figure is higher.

“The actual cost of cyber charter education has dropped dramatically in the 20 years since Pennsylvania’s charter school legislation was passed, whereas our reimbursement formula for cyber charters, which is still based on the cost of a brick-and-mortar education, has not, and the Pennsylvania taxpayer has shouldered the burden,” McCarter said.

Sturla added: “I want all Pennsylvania kids to have access to exceptional educational opportunities and to do that, we need to have fair, reasonable and accountable reimbursement practices in place. The proposal by Representative McCarter and myself is a fair and reasonable approach that makes sure cyber charters aren’t receiving more than what it costs to provide an educational experience to students.”

Currently, there are cyber charter programs that cost the Pennsylvania taxpayer dramatically more than higher quality cyber programs in the local school district or intermediate unit. In fact, some cyber charter schools are approaching the intermediate units to contract for their services, but the cyber charter school is still being reimbursed at a level comparable to a brick-and-mortar education.

“This legislation represents another step forward in trying to build real equity in the way we drive out money to educate our children, and it brings us a promise of success moving forward,” said Democratic Chairman of the Education Committee James Roebuck, D-Philadelphia.

“Montgomery County school districts’ total spending has increased by more than 28 percent since the 2011-12 school year for students attending cyber charter schools that haven’t even met proficiency standards, when students can attend high quality virtual programs at a fraction of the cost to the taxpayer through the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, other IUs and school districts across the commonwealth,” said Valentina Viletto, director of community and government relations for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit.

On the eve of budget season, McCarter and Sturla trained a spotlight on the issue and their proposal for fair and long overdue reform.

“There’s a lot of love in these halls for the free market,” McCarter said. “Competition, people like to say, lowers cost. Well, in this case, it’s the exact opposite. The alternative choice — the cyber charter school — is charging the Pennsylvania taxpayer significantly more than the local school district or intermediate unit. And in many cases, the cyber charter school’s program is far inferior. It doesn’t make sense to pay more for less — yet that is exactly what we’re making the Pennsylvania taxpayer do.”