Do Cyber Schools Spend Too Much?

With the House Education Committee set to consider new legislation on reducing cyber school funding, the discussion has turned again to how much cyber schools “actually” cost and whether they receive too much money.

Cyber schools are public charter schools in Pennsylvania, and their enrollment has grown rapidly over the last decade. There are 16 schools altogether, with four approved last year alone, and they now boast over 32,000 students. Still, in our $25 billion public education system, they account for only $319 million, or 1 percent of total spending. They also receive less per student than traditional public schools, about 81 percent on average.

But surely online, at-home learning costs less than a kid sitting in a regular classroom, right? Not necessarily.

Cyber schools must still pay for administration buildings and smaller classroom space in which teachers conduct lessons by video. Many also offer “blended learning” centers which allow students in-person class time within their online schedules, and extracurricular activities such as mobile science labs and performing arts centers. And all cyber schools have higher technology costs than regular public schools.

Running a cyber program isn’t easy. Pittsburgh-based STREAM Academy, a program run by an intermediate unit, recently encountered higher-than-anticipated costs of running a cyber school, and opted to close the academy after failing to attract enough students.

Instructional, administrative, technology and extracurricular costs vary for cyber schools just as they do for their traditional counterparts. In Pennsylvania, cyber schools already effectively educate students for less, and both parents and students love them. Shaving off supposed excess funding in cyber schools would damage their ability to compete and offer families a quality educational alternative—and it’s just such competition that keeps costs down and spending effective.