The guest comment “Cybercharters offer choices in education” (Daily Local News, August 29, 2022) might be more persuasive if it could be titled “E-Charters Provide Excellent Education”. But it cannot; he talks a lot about choices but doesn’t discuss the quality of what families are asked to choose.
In fact, CyberCharter students score more than 20% lower than public school students on standardized tests (PA Charter Change). There are valid reasons for students to attend cyber schools, but the overall quality of education is not one of them. And from the taxpayers’ point of view, there are many other areas of concern.
As the Daily Local‘s July 8 editorial notes “Charter school reform is long overdue,” “Pennsylvania has the highest cyber charter school enrollment in the nation,” and legally mandated payments from PA school districts to e-charters grew by half in 2020-21, to more than $1 billion. That same year, PA state’s 14 e-charter unrestricted surpluses more than doubled to $164 million (Children First).
Charters receive taxpayers’ money but are privately run, can buy and sell real estate, and often outsource their services to organizations with unverified backgrounds. Since they act like businesses, they can suddenly close and leave students stranded, as happened due to quality and safety issues at Daroff Charter School in Philadelphia on Friday, just before classes started on Monday ( Philadelphia Inquirer).
Like businesses, charters also spend to increase their customer base; cyber charters invests $35 million a year in advertising and marketing. The school whose guest columnist is CEO had so much excess money that it was rewarding its students’ families with cash payments totaling $600 a year (Education Voters of PA).
Why should taxpayers care? Cyber-schools, which generally do not maintain school buildings, in effect drain resources from public schools. There is no point in saying public schools except when their students go elsewhere; how will a particular school save on two extra places in an English or math class?
And cybers are reimbursed according to a fixed formula, often more than their actual expenses. The West Chester Area School District estimates that its ratepayers would save $1.7 million per year if it paid for cyber schools for special education students based on relevant costs rather than a pre-determined flat rate.
As the Daily local news concluded on July 8, it is definitely time to reform charter schools.