Cyber schools objecting to individual tuition payments

As legislators propose measures that would shift tuition payments for cyber charter schools from school districts to individuals, cyber charter officials are voicing their objections.

PA Leadership Charter School Chief Executive Officer Jim Hanak shared a copy of a resolution recently passed by the PA Leadership (cyber) Charter School Board of Directors.

The resolution specifically targets Senate Bill 34 which was introduced in January. Senate Bill 34 states: “If a public school district offers a cyber-based program equal in scope and content to an existing publicly chartered cyber charter school and a student in that district attends a cyber charter school instead of the district’s cyber-based program, the school district shall not be required to provide funding to pay for the student’s attendance at a cyber charter school.”

The resolution states, “Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools are the only schools that provide a choice option for any and all K to 12 students in the state.” It adds that “cyber charter schools offer an alternative for families whose students are being bullied or worse.”

It also states that cyber charter schools “draw frequently from traditionally under-served and financially disadvantaged populations” and provide services for less than a public school. Cyber charter schools provide services with “only 75 cents on the dollar as compared with the student’s home district,” according to the resolution.

Legislation such as Senate Bill 34 has been driven by years of rising bills for cyber charter tuition being added to public school district budgets. Those tuition bills often top the $1 million mark.

Jim Grosch, director of business services for the Warren County School District, provided figures for the district that show cyber charter tuition expenses that do not include the “brick and mortar” Tidioute Community Charter School.

According to Grosch, the school district’s bill for cyber charter tuition for the 2018-19 school year was $1,173,063. The bill for the previous year was $1,115,258. The figures for previous years are comparable.

State Senator Scott Hutchinson supports cyber charter schools and thinks funding issues should be addressed by bringing together all stakeholders involved.

“First, I believe that Charter and Cyber Charter Schools provide an important option for families and students and they are here to stay,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson, who is not a member of the Education Committee, said: “it seems unlikely that these bills will be voted upon by the entire legislature anytime soon.” “For several years there have been multiple pieces of Charter and Cyber Charter School Legislation introduced in the House and the Senate none of which make it through the process because there is no consensus,” he said.

“Ultimately, I believe that a Blue Ribbon Commission should be empaneled, similar to the Basic Education Funding Commission, with all stakeholders involved,” he said. “They would be able to holistically review the entire Charter approval process and funding methodology and make recommendations to the General Assembly rather than piecemeal changes.”