CF’s work in education focuses on promoting opportunity and improving children’s lives though incentive-based reforms. Instead of repeating the failed attempts to reform education through new rules or additional funding, such reforms use competition to improve education. Incentive-based reforms include providing choice within the public school system through charter schools and cyber schools, providing families with private school options through vouchers or tax credit-funded scholarships, and measuring and rewarding success in education for both schools and teachers. Only when parents have are able to choose the best school for their child, have an abundance of educational choices and ample information, and schools are forced to compete for students will we provide the best education to Pennsylvania’s youth.
The Matunis girls are just two of some 32,000 students statewide who are thriving at cyber schools. New legislation unveiled in Harrisburg, however, could do serious damage to cyber schools, hampering their ability to grow and function, and ultimately hurting the Matunis family and thousands like them.
A recent report released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute estimates Philadelphia School District (SDP) pension payments will total $349 million by 2020, which is a 378 percent increase from what the state and school district had to pay in 2011. That's a rise of about $1,900 per student. And this pension spike doesn’t just threaten the SDP but school districts all across the Commonwealth.
The report lays out the worst case scenario for the SDP, which serves as a warning to the rest of the state:
When the figures are compared to the district’s likely revenues in 2020, we find that supporting this rise in retirement costs could require SDP to cut as much as $283.9 million—13.0 percent of its spending—on other items. If SDP chose to meet the burden of rising retirement costs by raising the student-to-teacher ratio, it would require eliminating 3,077 (out of 9,227) teacher positions, effectively adding eight students per teacher, from sixteen to twenty-four. If SDP chose, instead, to meet the rise in retirement costs by reducing other components of teachers’ compensation, that drop would need to exceed $30,000 by 2020.
The Commonwealth Foundation estimates that under current law, annual taxpayer contibutions will increase by nearly $1,000 per household to fund pension liabilities for both public school employees and state employees.
Pennsylvania enacted significant pension reform in 2010, cutting benefit accruals for new hires by 25 percent. However, unlike the other two states we examine (Ohio and Wisconsin), the cuts did not make a dent in Pennsylvania’s rising retirement costs. This is because that rise—coming over the next few years—is due to the deferred funding of benefits previously earned, not the cost of benefits for new hires (which take many years to phase in).
For Pennsylvania to avoid school program cuts and higher taxes on working families, we need real pension reform now. For solutions to our pension crisis, visit Principles for Public Pension Reform.
A common complaint we hear about public cyber and charter schools is that they cost school districts too much money. Indeed, along with pension payments and lack of public support for tax increases, the “cost” of charter school students is one of the main budget problems cited by some school districts. Of course this ignores the fact that public cyber schools receive less funding than traditional schools—only 80 percent funding per student. The school districts keep the extra 20 percent without having to educate a child.
But did you know that Pennsylvania’s school districts also maintain generous reserve funds? These “rainy day” funds are supposed to fill budget gaps and compensate for tax revenue shortfalls. Given recent complaints of education funding cuts, these funds must surely be running dry, right? Not quite.
Updated Department of Education data shows that districts across the state hold more than $3.8 billion in reserve fund balances. That’s nearly a $300 million increase from last year.
That number sounds familiar, doesn’t it? $300 million is just about the yearly cost of public cyber schools for the entire state of Pennsylvania, and schools districts sock that amount away in just one year.
For even more perspective, the current $3.8 billion in school district reserves by themselves would pay for all the state’s cyber schools for more than a decade.
The next time you hear complaints about cyber schools taking funds from school districts, remember that districts are saving every year what cyber schools spend.
Help us defend cyber schools from funding cuts at www.CyberSchoolsSave.org and protect choice in public education for more than 32,000 Pennsylvania students.
Pennsylvania cyber schools receive on average about 20 percent less revenue per student than school districts spend.
Like other public charter schools, cyber schools receive funds only when families choose them. A portion of taxpayer dollars allocated for a student's education in her resident school district follows the child to her new cyber school. Now proposed legislation would cut cyber schools' funding even further, effectively treating their students like "second-class students."
Though cyber schools have a different learning model, they have many similar costs to regular public schools. For example, they must still pay for facilities, including administration offices and space for teachers to teach by video, and several offer blended learning centers. But they receive no funding from school districts for their facilities' costs. They must also provide health services, and their mandated annual PSSA testing can cost the largest cyber schools with thousands of students scattered across Pennsylvania hundreds of thousands of dollars to execute. Cyber schools also offer extracurricular activities and electronic library services that cost money, too.
In 2010-11, public cyber schools cost $319 million out of $25 billion on PreK-12 spending—just 1% of Pennsylvania’s total public education spending.
|Cyber vs. School District Spending, 2010-11|
|Cyber spending as % of school district spending||1%||81%|
|Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education, "Expenditure Data for All LEAs," 2010-11,
Click here to view or download the AFR Summary-Level Data report.
Total 2010-11 cyber enrollment was 27,779.
A new poll has found a very healthy majority—62 percent—of the state’s registered and likely voters favor parental choice in public education. And 87 percent think parents should have the option to choose the type of public school that’s best for their children.
But while the benefits of choice in public education may be reaching the public—comparisons to earlier polls show increases in support for charter schools—it’s taking Pennsylvania’s legislators a little longer to get the message.
Legislation pending in the state House would unfairly target cyber schools for cuts that could reach as much as 12 percent of their funding. While some reforms are necessary, cyber schools already receive an average 81 percent per student of the funds given to traditional schools. These additional cuts would make it extremely difficult—if not impossible— for cyber schools to compete. Indeed, many would be forced to close their doors at these drastically reduced funding levels.
As the new poll shows, Pennsylvania’s parents want more options in public education, not fewer. Students such as Hannah, Alyssa, Avi, Stephen, Rachel, and tens of thousands more rely on cyber schools to reach their full potential.
You can defend their choice at CyberSchoolsSave.org by telling the governor and your legislators that you support cyber school funding!
What does a neighborhood do when its surrounding school districts are underperforming, or downright violent and failing? Where can the kids go? In the Pittsburgh area, many students find refuge in a different type of public school: Propel Braddock Hills High. Against the odds, the charter school is achieving great results—a testament to the power of school choice.
Right now, Propel Braddock Hills High has about 250 students, but the waiting list for all nine Propel schools around Pennsylvania is 3,000 and counting. The school nurtures its students, including ones like Brandon Quarles, who come in with little but poor grades and attitude. The teachers and administrators offer innovative programs, pull students up to higher academic standards, and know every kid by name. Watch how Braddock Hills High is transforming the lives of its students—and its community.
Avi Stein, a resident of Camp Hill, overcame learning disabilities and the challenges of mentoring four younger siblings to be one of only 20 Central Pennsylvania students honored with a 2013 Best & Brightest award. With his unique gifts, he decided to attend Commonwealth Connections Academy (CCA), a cyber school with teaching centers across the state, including one in Harrisburg.
A member of the National Honor Society, Avi was also part of a team that designed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Pennsylvania Real World Design Competition. CCA won first place in the statewide competition—for the third straight year—and will be competing at the national level. Avi, who was chosen to give a TEDxYouth talk earlier this year, plans to attend the honors program at Susquehanna University, studying engineering and pre-medicine.
But due to bills pending in the state legislature, his four younger siblings may not benefit from the same opportunity for choice in public schooling that helped Avi achieve success.
One week ago, hundreds of cyber and charter school parents and students marched on Harrisburg in support of these popular alternatives to traditional public education. Supporters rallied at the capitol where Sen. Mike Folmer and Rep. Dan Truitt were among the speakers urging continued pressure on legislators with the goal of saving cyber and charter schools from punitive and arbitrary funding cuts
The proposed cuts would leave cyber schools struggling to compete with already better-funded brick and mortar schools. Cyber schools are a solution for the education needs of more than 32,000 kids like Avi and Stephen who will excel if given the chance.
Help us protect cyber schools as a viable option for families at CyberSchoolsSave.org, where you can send a message to your legislator supporting parental choice in public education.
Hannah Tuffy, 20, is one of the first cyber school students to be accepted at the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The accomplished Scranton native credits her success to the flexible program she enjoyed at cyber school, which allowed her to excel academically while creating room for college classes, work and soccer. Her dream is to study biomechanical engineering and become an Apache pilot. Watch Hannah explain how cyber school prepared her for a successful military career.
Did you know that Pennsylvania’s cyber schools account for barely 1 percent of the state’s education budget? Despite this fact, legislation is in the works right now to slash what some call "excess funding" for cyber schools. Learn more at CyberSchoolsSave.org to find out how you can help us protect cyber school funding and keep kids like Hannah learning.
Hannah and Alyssa will tell you that the freedom to choose a school that works for them was essential to their academic success. They are just two of the 32,000 students across the nation enrolled in cyber schools. But you don’t have to take their word for it. Now, there is new research backing the academic benefits of school choice, specifically voucher programs.
A new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that children and families who utilize school vouchers achieve better educational outcomes. According to "A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice," 11 out of 12 "gold standard" studies showed that students excel with school choice vouchers, and none suffer when they chose educational options outside of the public school realm.
The report also found that 22 out of 23 studies on how school choice impacts public education showed that competition actually improved public school performance. No research concluded that school choice harms public schools.
The Friedman Foundation also reviewed empirical research related to the impact school choice has on taxpayers, diversity and civic values. Research consistently supports school choice in those areas.
Despite decades of carping by skeptics, vouchers and school choice in any form are a win-win for children—whether they attend private school or remain in a public school affected by school choice, said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Competition works in all segments of our society, and it certainly helps children when they’re permitted to attend a school that fits their needs.
Pennsylvanians don't have to look far to see school choice at work. Last week, kids and parents celebrated the 12th anniversary of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The program has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to escape failing schools while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the past two years, five new states have adopted private school choice, and other states have expanded their school choice options, including the Pennsylvania's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit—a lifeline for kids trapped in violent and failing schools.
posted by AMY CLINGENSMITH MONGIOVI | 10:44 AM | Comments
Stephen Frank was a cheerful young student with an enthusiasm for learning and an interest in football. Not long into his first year of middle school at his traditional public school, however, there was a change in his attitude. He became humorless, lethargic, and withdrawn.
After losing 40 pounds to an eating disorder, the problem became clear: bullying.
Stephen's mother, Monica, contacted the school's vice principal and guidance counselor but found no one willing or able to help protect her son. As Stephen's condition became more desperate, Monica decided to look beyond the traditional school setting to find a solution.
Luckily, Monica is a cyber school teacher and was confident in the academic rigor and supportive environment offered by these public schools. Stephen has now been attending 21st Century Cyber School for a year and the difference is stark. He is happy, full of life, and is on the distinguished honor roll every quarter. Most of all, he is safe.
Today is the seventh annual Day on the Hill for public charter and cyber charter schools sponsored by our friends at pacyberfamilies.org and pacharters.org. It's when families like the Franks—who now number in the thousands across Pennsylvania—come to Harrisburg to show how cyber schools have saved them.
In the end, Monica learned that parents have choices, even if traditional schools don't offer them. You can read the Franks' full story here. And if you couldn't make it to the state capitol today, visit CyberSchoolsSave.org. Sign up, send a letter to your legislators in support of cyber schools, and help maintain a safe alternative to traditional schools for kids like Stephen.
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.