Cyber Charter Funding Debate

Good article by William Mulgrew in The Evening Bulletin on the debate over public cyber school funding, with emphasis on the Haverford District:

Last year, Haverford School District paid $317,000 to send 41 students to cyber charter schools, or $7,731.71 per pupil. The total price for all cyber charter students statewide amounted to nearly $74 million.

“This is costing school districts a heck of a lot of money,” Vitali said. “That’s problematic.”


In school year 2006-07, Haverford’s total expenditure was $71,267,450. The 41 cyber charter students cost only 0.34 percent of the budget. If added to Haverford’s 5,560 student enrollment for the same year, the cyber students represent 0.74 percent of the student population. [emphasis added]

Here’s my contribution to the debate:

Nathan Benefield, an economist with the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg free-market think tank, estimates the average per-pupil spending in cyber charters statewide is $8,371. The Pennsylvania Department of Education places the average per-pupil spending for public schools at $11,485. In the 2005-06 school year, Benefield’s analysis shows that cyber charters saved taxpayers $146 million statewide.

Hopkins doesn’t see the savings. He also serves on the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, which runs the 21st Century Cyber School.

“There’s no way that it takes $8,500 [per-pupil] to operate a cyber charter school. My guess is that it’s a third or half of that,” Hopkins said, noting that cybers do not have to pay for transportation or school buildings, and they pay teachers much less than public schools. The average Haverford teacher makes between $55,000 to $60,000, Hopkins said, for 10 months of work.

“That argument doesn’t make any sense, because the building and transportation costs have already been subtracted,” Benefield said. “So it’s much less than what students cost on instruction and student services. [Hopkins’] argument is somewhat deceptive.” [emphasis added]

Finally, I am troubled by Rep. Vitali’s comments, not to mention his proposed legislation:

“My bill doesn’t take away any parental choice,” because parents can still send their children to a cyber charter school established by public schools, Vitali told The Bulletin. …

Vitali said that if cyber charters do in fact save taxpayer money, his bill will save even more when school districts can create their own in-house.

These comments make no sense. Parents can currently chose any of the 11 cyber schools in the state. Under Vitali’s bill, if a school district creates their own cyber school, parents would have only one choice. That is certainly taking away choices.

And how his bill will “save even more” is beyond my comprehension. Why would a district-run cyber would be cheaper than a chartered cyber? In fact, it is likely to be both more expensive and lower quality, given that it will have a monopoly, it will get money from taxpayers regardless of how many students it can attract, and the propensity of school districts to spend as much as they can.