As CEO of the most experienced cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, I often encounter misinformation about cyber charter schools and their funding. We are wrongly perceived as private businesses collecting taxpayer dollars that would otherwise stay in the public school system. The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is, in fact, a public school. Our programs and finances are monitored by the state. Our families are taxpayers, and if they choose to enroll their children at a different public school, then those tax dollars should follow them to support their education and development.
Currently, cyber charter schools are funded through a formula outlined in the charter law. Each of Pennsylvania’s school districts are required to complete a PDE 363 form that accounts for how much money the district spends to educate regular and special education students each year. Under this law, school districts are permitted to deduct certain expenses, such as transportation and federal grants. As a result, we are reimbursed approximately 75% of what a school district calculates it spends per student, while 25% remains in the district. In other words, cyber charter schools do not charge tuition like private schools, but they are reimbursed based upon a Pennsylvania Department of Education-created formula and calculations made by the school districts.
Clarifying that we are a public school and how we are funded is critical, especially now as HB 1422 waits for action in the Pennsylvania Senate. The proposed cuts total nearly 50 percent and, if passed, would be locked in for five years.
We do not take issue with the bill’s transparency stipulations, as we already employ these practices. Our annual budgets are available at pacyber.org. We also voluntarily submit our annual comprehensive financial report to the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, and received an award four years in a row for demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” when communicating our school’s financial story.
Superintendents claim that a district’s online program is comparable and more affordable than a cyber charter school’s program. PA Cyber is more than just classes on a screen. We are a comprehensive school that our students consider their own. We have 800 full-time employees who dedicate themselves every day to more than 10,000 students. Beyond the classroom, we provide students with the best technology, advisors, counselors, psychologists, extracurricular activities, clubs, proms, and other social opportunities.
Another common argument against cyber charters is their students do not perform well academically. PA Cyber’s 2022 standardized testing score data for PSSAs and Keystones show that a longer tenure with our school leads to a better outcome. Of the students who enrolled with us in kindergarten, approximately 66% scored Advanced or Proficient across all subjects. Additionally, PA Cyber has a 97% graduation rate for students who attend four or more years.
I am open to discussion on funding reform, but I am opposed to the drastic funding cuts outlined in HB 1422 that will prevent cyber charter students from being afforded the same opportunities as other public school students. The proposed budget cuts would mean instability for our students. How does that not affect school choice? Cyber charters would struggle to remain a competitive alternative to other schools. These cuts are an overcorrection to the current funding formula.
When evaluating the future of cyber charter schools, I ask that our discussions follow four principles: fairness, transparency, based on facts not perceptions, and should not treat our students as second-class citizens. Let’s be mindful of the 60,000 students statewide who deserve a comparable alternative when their district school is no longer a good fit for them. Their families are taxpayers too, and the money should continue to follow the student.
Brian Hayden is CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.
We are wrongly perceived as private businesses collecting taxpayer dollars that would otherwise stay in the public school system. The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is, in fact, a public school.– Brian Hayden