Legislators and Education Leaders Gather to Call for Cyber Charter Reform

HARRISBURG, April 9 - On Monday, legislators and education leaders gathered in the Capitol’s Media Center to call for common sense cyber charter reform.?? 

In 2002, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law, originally enacted in 1997, was amended to authorize the creation of cyber charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools. Since that time, no substantial updates have been made to address the significant issues that school districts and taxpayers face due to flaws in the law. 

Cyber charter schools are currently funded with the same formula used for brick-and-mortar charter schools, which creates inconsistencies and overpayments to cyber charter schools.  

This formula uses a school district’s expenses, not what the cyber charter school needs to provide its educational program, in determining what school districts will be required to pay for each one of its students who chooses to attend a cyber charter. The result is that each of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania pay a different inflated tuition rate to cyber charter schools, despite cyber charters providing all of their students with the same education and not having the same level of expenditures as brick-and-mortar schools. 

At the press conference, Representative Joe Ciresi expressed why this reform is necessary, “The point of cyber charter reform is simple: making sure everyone plays by the same rules. Taxpayers expect and deserve accountability and safeguards whenever taxpayer dollars are spent, and cyber charter schools shouldn’t be exempt. HB 1422 creates these safeguards, ensures transparency and ethics rules, and brings money back to the taxpayers by ending $455 million in overpayments. There’s bipartisan support for reform from every corner of the state, and it’s time to get this done.” 

The issue of funding is compounded by the way cyber charter schools receive funding for special education students. 98% of special education students attending a cyber charter school are classified in the lowest cost tier for providing special education. Yet, special education payments to cyber charters are inflated because they are based on the district’s expenses, where more than 93% of the students requiring the most extensive and costly special education services are educated. 

PSBA’s Chief Advocacy Officer Kevin Busher, who also spoke at the press event, shared what this means for districts, “School boards are forced to choose between raising property taxes on their neighbors, cutting programs and services provided to their students, or postponing critical building, technology, or curriculum upgrades in order to pay their mandatory cyber charter tuition bills. That’s just not fair to our taxpayers and to our students.” 

School boards across the state are unified in their call for reform, and recognition of the need for reform seems to be universal.

In his remarks, Rep. Ciresi continued that, “Reform received bipartisan support in the House, over 90 percent of school boards have passed resolutions, and the Governor has called for change in his budget proposal: it’s time to end overpayments to cyber charter schools and return that money to educating students and to taxpayers.” 

Both reports of the Basic Education Funding Commission also recognized the impact that cyber charter school tuition payments have on school districts. 

For school officials, this is not a matter of eliminating school choice as an option for parents. But rather, setting fairer payments so cyber charter education is not detrimental to taxpayers and the 1.7 million students whose families have chosen their traditional public schools. 

PSBA commends the legislators?who have worked tirelessly to support and progress cyber charter reform and encourages the governor and General Assembly to?pass cyber charter reform before the end of this session.