Reese – 530 discriminates against cyber schools

State Representative Mike Reese, on the official government website, PA House of Representatives, House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda, wrote of his legislation that would cut funding for Cyber Charter Schools: (continued)

“First, my bill seeks to generate financial savings for school districts and local taxpayers by making sensible changes to the formula for funding cyber charter schools.

  • Allowing school districts to make the following deductions from their per-student expenditures when calculating their cyber charter school payments:
    • School district food service costs for the preceding school year, which will result in annual savings of approximately $14 million.

School district payments to cyber charter schools for the preceding school year, which will result in annual savings of approximately $7 million.”

(House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda)

$21 million in savings – that is a lot of money.  That is until you compare it to the $24 Billion, that all public schools spend each year.  This $21 million savings represents only less than one hundredth (.001) of the entire budget.

However, for the students in charter schools, it represents an overall 5% cut to their budgets.  For students in the Chester Upland School District – the district that needs school choice the most, it represents a 17% cut for these students – on top of the 25% they already do not receive.

So, in reality, this is not a “sensible change” at all for charter school students who need a cyber charter school.  It also generates very little financial savings for school districts and local taxpayers as well.  In reality, all it does is take money from the student that needs a Cyber Public Charter School to give back to the student that needs a brick and mortar experience.

When a student chooses a Cyber Charter School, the tax dollars that the parents pay to the district follows the student to the Cyber Charter School.  When that happens, the School District no longer is responsible for that student’s expenses.  In fact, the Cyber Charter School only receives about 75% of the home school district’s money for that child.  The home district gets to keep the extra 25%.  So, a Cyber Student, by choosing a Cyber School, actually saves the taxpayer approximately 25% off the top.

Cutting the Cyber School yet more time, as House Bill 530 would do, only harms the Cyber Charter School Student.  It does not save the home school district any appreciable amount of money.   In fact, if these cuts lead to Cyber Charter Schools losing their students, 100% of the costs for these lost students will then fall back on the home school district.

Basically, what this bill (HB 530) does is that it takes up to $1,700 for the needs of a Cyber Charter School Student to subsidize an extra $10 for the needs of the student that remains in the home school district brick and mortar setting.

The sad part of this bill is that it is cutting funding for this innovative school initiative at the very time that Cybers are demonstrating success.  The PA Department of Education released school SAT scores last month.  Out of 189 Pennsylvania Charter Schools, three of the top six scores were Cyber Charter Schools, and the top charter school was 21st Century (Cyber) Charter School placing 63rd out of 691 schools state wide!  The next closest charter school placed 119th.  Perhaps even more amazing is that all these charter schools accomplished these gains with 25% less funding than the school districts they were competing against.

In the last 12 years, 18 Cyber Charter Schools have been created.  Four have closed their doors.  The 14 that survived the rigors of competition and innovation in this new education sector serve over 40,000 students who need this kind of school to meet their unique learning challenges.

But, doesn’t it make sense to withhold “food services” from Cyber Charter Schools?”  After all, they don’t need this money, do they?

Actually, Cyber Charter Schools could use such “food services” money as some do have live centers for students to connect with their teachers via the Internet through local coaches / tutors / Special Ed Resources.

The real issue, however, is that all schools have different costs based on their mission and function. A Performing and Fine Arts School would have dramatically different costs than a School for the Deaf. A Charter School for Athletics would need significantly different equipment and personnel than a Charter School for Handicapped Students. The same would be true for a Charter School that focused on business/finance verses a school that taught science/technology.

Likewise, Cyber Charter Schools have unique costs. By law, they are required to provide a state of the art computer and high speed Internet connection for each student. In addition, they are required to set up dozens of testing sites throughout the state each year to test student live with the mandated PA standardized tests. These unique functions can cost between 10-20% of the school’s budget. Cyber Charter Schools do not get extra funding for these costs.

The only fair way to provide funding for every student is to allow the money set aside for each student follow that student to the school of their choice and to allow that school choose what is best for that student.

The most unfair way to provide funding for each student is to have some bureaucrat instructing elected legislators as to which line item is “fair” and which line item is “unfair.”

House Bill 530 in essence is communicating that Pennsylvania believes that students and their parents should have educational choice but that their choices should be limited. This bill wants to limit student’s ability to attend three of the top six charter schools in the state by cutting the funding of these schools only.

How unfair is that to the tens of thousands of Pennsylvania students who need this kind of school to thrive and in some cases just to survive?