A Primer on Pennsylvania Cyber Schools

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Executive Summary

An increasing number of parents are choosing Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools for their children every year. Between 2001 and 2006, enrollment grew from 1,848 to almost 16,000 students. Although cyber schools receive less funding than traditional public schools, they perform well academically despite frequently serving students who are hard to educate. In the 2006-07 school year, Pennsylvania’s cyber schools collectively met 64 out of 78 of the state’s academic criteria for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Despite their popularity among parents and demonstrated academic successes, cyber schools have come under attack from public school boards and some lawmakers. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the General Assembly that would limit cyber schools’ independence and drastically reduce funding for students. These pieces of legislation are in response to claims that cyber schools are “unaccountable” and that they take too much money from traditional public school districts.

These charges overlook the fact that cyber schools face the same accountability measures as public schools—and more—including state testing, audits, and site visits. The claims also fail to highlight that cyber schools receive a fraction of what districts spend per pupil, spending only about 73%, on average, what traditional district schools spend per pupil. School districts complaining about funding transfers fail to mention that they receive up to 30% in per pupil reimbursements for cyber students. Thus, school districts keep nearly 50% of per pupil tax funding for children they no longer have to educate.

In light of this debate, this Policy Brief seeks to help Pennsylvania residents understand more about cyber charter schools, who they serve, and how they operate.

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The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute located in Harrisburg, PA.