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Cyber Charter School Tuition

I have recently proposed legislation regarding charter school participation and funding. Senate Bill 34 is simple – if a student chooses to attend a cyber charter school when their home district also offers a comparable cyber education program, the student/parents would be obligated to pay the tuition cost of attending the private cyber charter school, not the school district.

I am sure we all know someone whose children attend a private or parochial school. Those parents are obligated to pay the tuition fees charged by their school of choice. I am proposing that we treat cyber students the same way.
It’s an issue of fairness. Why do families whose students attend parochial or private schools have to pay tuition and school property taxes while the families of students who attend cyber charter options do not pay the tuition costs for a personal option?

We sometimes think of cyber charters simply as school on the internet. But it is supposed to be more than that. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (which oversees PA Cyber Charters) says that cyber charters “will serve as laboratories of innovation on behalf of all of Pennsylvania’s schools. … A cyber charter school applicant must demonstrate that the proposed cyber charter school will provide innovative and unique educational opportunities for students beyond what is currently in operation. A cyber charter school, as part of its overarching mission, is expected to offer students an alternative means of achieving academic proficiency.”

Most of our school districts in Berks County offer a cyber program, or virtual academy, but as parents have options in choosing between public and private schools; parents also have options in the cyber world and quality is of great concern. In fact, academic performance has been unacceptable in almost all cases of private cyber charters who serve the county. This is where my legislation comes into play.

Currently, the school districts of students who attend a private cyber charter are footing the bill – not the student’s parents or guardians.  

Senate Bill 34 was first introduced in the 2015-2016 legislative session and was drafted in collaboration with some Berks County school superintendents who were deeply concerned that their students who attended private cyber charters weren’t receiving a good education. The superintendents were frustrated that they had little or no control over the tuition and fees that these poorly performing schools were assessing them.

Throughout the commonwealth, some 500 school districts pay different tuition rates for each student – even among students who are attending the same cyber charter. The tuition does not reflect the actual cost to educate a student in private cyber charters.

In Berks County alone, our school districts have paid more than $17.7 million in the 2017-2018 school year. That figure is astounding and is certainly not helping school districts to keep school property taxes in check.

I am not against brick and mortar or cyber charter schools and I understand that some students will need an alternative to the public school format. However, these institutions must truly educate students and perform to the same academic standards as the public-school system. In addition, tuition costs must accurately reflect the true cost of educating every child.

The Charter School Law is in dire need of change. Our negligence in addressing charter school reform is hurting students when they are not receiving the education they need and deserve and is fleecing taxpayers because costs are out of control.

SB 34 is currently in the Senate Education Committee. Even if this bill does not pass I am hopeful and will work for meaningful cyber charter school reform.

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Reading, PA 19605
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