Republican Senators – Reforming PA’s Cyber Schools

Dear Senator,

By now you probably know that there is a strong effort being waged to “reform” Pennsylvania’s Cyber Charter Schools.  The “reform” is coming in the form of funding cuts.  It is particularly troubling to me that these reform cuts are coming at the same time that the Cyber Charter Schools are excelling with last month’s SAT scores.  Out of 189 PA Charter Schools, three of the top six were Cyber Charter Schools, and the very top school by a wide margin was 21st Cyber Charter School!  Cybers made these gains despite the fact that out of the 189 PA Charter Schools there are only 14 Cyber Charter Schools. (continued)

The most recent “reform” effort is the recently passed House Bill 530 that would cut the funding for a student that needs a Cyber Charter School from 3% to over 17%, depending on the district (average 5-6% statewide).  The cuts in this bill are predicated on two principles:

  • Cyber Charter Schools do not have the same financial needs as other brick and mortar schools.
  • The cuts that are identified are for items that Cyber Charter Schools do not need.

Both of these principles are flawed.   Cyber Charter Schools do have the same financial needs as other schools. All 14 of Pennsylvania’s Cyber Charter Schools are seeking to provide the personalized, individualized, differentiated instruction that Cyber Charter Schools can uniquely provide.  This kind of instruction, however, is not inexpensive.  Every PA Cyber School spends their allotted funding on their students each year.  Some years, our school ran a deficit when the State cut our funding at the 11th hour.

School Districts already are allowed 20 deductions before any money is sent to a charter school.  Because of these deductions, charter school students currently receive approximately 75% of the money for their education in their charter school vs. 100% of that money should the student remain in their home school district.

(Link To Guidelines)

In addition, all Charter School budgets are based on School District’s last year’s spending – not income.  The current year’s income could be as much as 3-6% higher than the previous year’s spending.

House 530 Bill allows school districts to deduct “food services” on top of the 20 other previously allowed deductions.

Many Cyber Charter Schools do have live centers where they would like to provide food for the students that attend.  Many Cyber Charter Schools also have buildings to house staff and students but are not allowed to receive that money from the school districts (it is deducted) or any normal reimbursements from the state.

House Bill 530 also allows school districts to deduct any and all student money that flowed to the Cyber Charter Schools the year before.  This deduction sounds reasonable until you stop to realize that the year before, the Cyber Charter School bore all the expenses of that student yet the school district got to keep 25% of the income for that student.  So the school district gets to deduct for an expense they did not pay for but in fact received a dividend for in the previous year!

The real problem with picking and choosing “deductions” based on perceived “need” is that every school had different costs.  Cyber Charter Schools may not have bussing costs (although, some do have some smaller transportation costs) but they do have other costs that brick and mortar schools do not have.  Cyber Schools, for example, are required by law to provide for every student, a state of the art computer, printer, high speed Internet line and the technology team to support this equipment.  Cyber Schools do not get reimbursed for these costs.

So, arbitrarily picking deductions based on subject reasoning is not fair to the Cyber Charter School student who chooses this school for his or her unique educational needs.

It is even more unfair for the State to establish a “Funding Commission” and in the same bill limit funding for all Charter Schools (through the interest escrow provision) and cut even more for Cyber Charter Schools.  In this bill, the PA Legislature is telling the Funding Commission that Charter Schools should be treated as second class public schools.  The Legislature is telling the Commission that Charter Schools do not deserve to have the same funding as School Districts – even while these schools are being held to a higher standard.

This is a particularly wrong message to send to this newly formed “Commission,” especially in light of the fact that 10 of the 19 positions on the Commission will be appointed by Governor Wolf’s political appointment.  4 of the remaining 8 will be appointed by the Democrat Party in the House and Senate and 4 will be appointed by the Republican Party in the House and Senate.

In his budget address, Governor Wolf has arbitrarily announced that he wants to see the Cyber Charter Schools’ per student allotment capped at $5,950.  The Cyber Charter School Special Education Student would receive an additional $3,035.

Currently, PA is spending over $15,341 per student in our public school system (12-13 –Education Revenue and Expenses).  Charter Schools receive 75% of that amount or about $11,505 per student (Special Ed students included).  Our governor wants to cut that amount almost in half.  House Bill 530 would establish a funding commission that would allow the governor to appoint over half of the members to the commission, to join with four more of the 19 from his own party.  Given the public positions of this governor, I cannot see how this could produce a fair report.

For this reason, I am respectfully requesting that you not support HB 530.  If I can be of any help to you in drafting legislation that would be well received by the PA Charter School community, I would be happy to offer any assistance you desire.

Sincerely,

Dr. James Hanak, CEO,

PA Leadership Charter School.