PA Cyber
Photograph of Brian Hayden, CEO of PA Cyber

Hayden's Viewpoint: Keep cyber charters a choice for Pennsylvania’s students

June 30, 2023

The following was published in the Pittsburgh Business Times. If you are not a subscriber, here's what was said.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is currently considering HB 1422, a bill that supporters claim will both protect cyber school families’ right to choose who will educate their children as well as to reform Pennsylvania’s decades-old charter law. While there are parts of this bill regarding accountability and transparency that we are already doing and are not problematic, cyber charter schools strongly object to the change in the funding formula that would cut $480 million from over 60,000 Pennsylvania cyber charter students.

At PA Cyber, we have always been open to thoughtful discussions on charter reform, including the ways in which we are funded, if they are based upon four principles: they are fair, transparent, based on facts not perceptions, and do not treat our students as second-class citizens.

Unfortunately, HB 1422 and the process surrounding it are inconsistent with these principles. For example, our families, who are also taxpayers, have not had the opportunity to voice their concerns about the detrimental impact this bill will have on their children's education and future. Instead, the bill is being rushed without proper hearings, analysis, or even a basic understanding of its long-term consequences for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania's public school students and their families.

Currently, cyber charter schools are funded through a formula outlined in the charter law. Each of Pennsylvania’s public school districts are required to complete a PDE 363 form that accounts for how much money that district spends to educate regular education and special education students. School districts are permitted under this law to deduct certain expenses, such as transportation and the receipt of federal grants that we are also eligible for; therefore, we are reimbursed approximately 75% of what a school district calculates it spends per student. 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 themselves.

We believe that this is a fair formula for reimbursement. It is important to remember that our families are taxpayers, too. Their tax dollars do not belong to superintendents or school boards but are paid to educate their children. And if their children choose to attend a different public school, then those tax dollars should follow them in order to support their education, experience, and development.

The proposed reimbursement in HB 1422 would have serious and permanent negative consequences to our students, their families, our employees, and community. These massive cuts, nearly fifty percent, that cyber charter schools would be required to absorb in only one year would mean unnecessary instability and insecurity for all these groups. To believe the arguments of this bill’s supporters that this in no way will impact the choice our students and their families make is totally false. What organization would not be impacted by such significant cuts in a single year?

Cyber students and their families across Pennsylvania expect and deserve a full school experience. At PA Cyber, for example, we do not simply teach math on a screen. We have 800 full-time employees who dedicate themselves every day to student success; in fact, over 300 of whom are Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) members. Beyond the classroom, cyber charter schools provide all their students with the best technology, advisors, counselors, psychologists, extracurricular activities, clubs, proms, and other social opportunities. We are comprehensive schools that our students consider their own; they become proud graduates and go forward to post-secondary education, the military, careers, family farms, and to raise families. Just like all other Pennsylvania public school students. It would be unconscionable for state legislators to deny our students this opportunity.

The origin story of PA Cyber is perhaps unique in Pennsylvania, but important. After the decline of western Pennsylvania’s industrial community in the 1980s, the Midland Borough School District was forced to close its high school and originally entered into a tuition agreement with another Beaver County school district. Three years later, that district ended the agreement in large part due to racial and socioeconomic issues. The Midland school district was unable to find another partner in Pennsylvania and ultimately was forced to send its high school students to a school district in neighboring Ohio. The same groups advocating for HB 1422—superintendents, school boards, business officers—were fine with sending Pennsylvania tax dollars to Ohio because they didn’t want to serve these students. PA Cyber was founded to bring these students back to Pennsylvania.

History appears to repeat itself, as the school districts want to take opportunities and choice away from students.

Instead of this bad legislation, let’s really talk about how cyber schools serve their students and find fair, meaningful reform that allows cyber school students to continue to thrive, achieve, and succeed. And we encourage the people of Pennsylvania to voice their concerns to their district legislators.

Brian Hayden is CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Media Contact

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.