HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Commonwealth Foundation called on the House Education Committee to treat all public school students equally, whether they attend traditional district schools or cyber public schools.
“Proposals that would place restrictions on public cyber schools—without placing equal restrictions on traditional school districts—is discriminatory and harmful to public school students,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, who is also a former teacher and public school board member.
“The proposals being pushed through the House Education Committee unfairly target public schools of choice for parents, while ignoring the same problems in traditional public school districts,” Brouillette said. “How does hamstringing cyber schools improve the quality of education in any of our public schools?”
House Bill 446, sponsored by Rep. Beyer (R, Allentown), would limit public cyber school expenses to the lowest per-pupil cost of any cyber school making adequate yearly progress, with increases in spending tied to measures of statewide wage inflation. HB 446 would require cyber schools to obtain state approval to increase enrollment and spend fund balances over 12% of operating costs, and allows the Department of Education to reject teachers’ experience in cyber schools as fulfilling certification requirements. These limits effectively discriminate against cyber schools, their teachers, and their students.
- Cyber schools already receive less funding, per pupil, than do traditional school districts:
- All charter schools, including cyber schools, receive funding from the student’s resident school district based on a formula that excludes much of a districts’ non-instructional costs.
- Cyber schools receive, on average, only about 73% of the per-pupil funding of school districts.
- These bills create disadvantages for cyber schools and cyber school students:
- Cyber schools would be subject to certain requirements—including enrollment caps and reserve fund limits—that school districts are not subject to.
- Teachers in cyber schools are treated as inferior to their school district counterparts—as their experience may not be counted towards certification requirements.
- Students who attend cyber schools would be treated unequally under this legislation—they are given less support than student in school districts.
- Limiting the growth of cyber school funding—but not the growth in school district spending—will result in an increasing gap between funding of students in district schools and those in cyber schools.
“Placing handcuffs on cyber schools serves only the interest of school districts administrators and school boards who don’t like the competition of cyber charter schools,” said Brouillette. “The motivation behind this legislation has nothing to do with our children’s best interests. If it were, cyber schools—and the public school students who attend them— would be treated in the same manner as district schools.”
Proponents of HB 446 claim cyber schools are draining resources from school districts. Yet cyber school costs are less than one half of one percent (0.46%) of the $22 billion spent on public schools in 2005-06. And by educating students with fewer education tax dollars, cyber schools are saving—not costing—taxpayers millions of dollars.
HB 446 would reduce payments to cyber schools (based on 2005-06 spending and 2006-07 enrollment) by an estimated $9 million—representing only $2.82 per homeowner. In contrast, cyber schools have the potential to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Cyber schools spent an average of $3,100 less, per student, than school districts in 2005-06. Cyber schools currently spend more than $5,000 below the amount recommended in the “costing-out” study.
“The benefits of cyber charter schools are frequently overlooked by traditional school districts. When parents choose to place their children into lower costing cyber schools, they are not only reducing the tax burden on homeowners, but they are helping to alleviate over-crowding and the need for new school construction,” said Brouillette. “Cyber schools also help to reduce class size and effectively increase per-pupil spending in district schools.”
“Our tax dollars collected for education should be used for the education of children, not for the special interests of adults working in the public school system. Funding should follow the child to whichever public school parents determine will best serve their children.”
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The Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org) is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.
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