Cyber Report Strikes Out

Although my grandfather, Danny Murtaugh, managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, I don’t pretend to be a baseball expert. But you don’t grow up in a baseball family without knowing you get three strikes and you’re out. With their latest cyber school funding report, Education Voters of PA has struck out.

Strike 1: “PA’s cyber charter schools cost taxpayers $463 million each year.”

Whether at a district school or a charter school, educating children costs Pennsylvania taxpayers. PA’s district schools cost taxpayers more than $30 billion in 2016-17. That equates to almost $18,000 per student. By educating students at a fraction of the cost—an average of $12,300 per student—cyber schools are saving taxpayers money.

Strike 2: A 2011 change “shifted 100% of the cost of charter school payments onto school districts.”

Through a combination of federal, state, and local tax dollars, districts pay 100 percent of the cost of educating all students in public schools. The purpose of education funding in Pennsylvania is … wait for it … to educate Pennsylvania students. Whether this happens in district-run or charter schools, 100 percent of the cost of educating kids in public schools is borne by the taxpayers through local districts. School districts exist to facilitate the education of children—wherever that occurs. Those children are not the property of the district. Neither is the funding that is meant to educate them.

Strike 3: “Problems are exacerbated by growth in cyber charter schools.”

The report claims cyber school growth is hurting Pennsylvania districts and taxpayers. However, cyber schools can only grow when more families choose them. According to the report, enrollment in cyber schools increased from fewer than 5,000 students in 2003 to more than 34,500 in 2016. Clearly parents and students are attracted to the benefits cyber schools offer, such as the ability to work at your own pace, flexible schedules, safety, and more family time. If cyber schools are satisfying families at 30 percent lower costs than district schools, that’s a win for all Pennsylvanians.

One of the things my grandfather liked about baseball was that it wasn’t ruled by a clock. The team that was behind still had a chance to redeem themselves until the last out of the game. Policy research operates under a different set of rules. No doubt there are some truths contained in the cyber report, but readers shouldn’t have to wade through pages of misleading rhetoric to find them.