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Friday, August 17, 2007

Cyber Charter Funding Debate

Good article by William Mulgrew in The Evening Bulletin on the debate over public cyber school funding, with emphasis on the Haverford District:

Last year, Haverford School District paid $317,000 to send 41 students to cyber charter schools, or $7,731.71 per pupil. The total price for all cyber charter students statewide amounted to nearly $74 million.

"This is costing school districts a heck of a lot of money," Vitali said. "That's problematic."

In school year 2006-07, Haverford's total expenditure was $71,267,450. The 41 cyber charter students cost only 0.34 percent of the budget. If added to Haverford's 5,560 student enrollment for the same year, the cyber students represent 0.74 percent of the student population. [emphasis added]

Here's my contribution to the debate:
Nathan Benefield, an economist with the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg free-market think tank, estimates the average per-pupil spending in cyber charters statewide is $8,371. The Pennsylvania Department of Education places the average per-pupil spending for public schools at $11,485. In the 2005-06 school year, Benefield's analysis shows that cyber charters saved taxpayers $146 million statewide.

Hopkins doesn't see the savings. He also serves on the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, which runs the 21st Century Cyber School.

"There's no way that it takes $8,500 [per-pupil] to operate a cyber charter school. My guess is that it's a third or half of that," Hopkins said, noting that cybers do not have to pay for transportation or school buildings, and they pay teachers much less than public schools. The average Haverford teacher makes between $55,000 to $60,000, Hopkins said, for 10 months of work.

"That argument doesn't make any sense, because the building and transportation costs have already been subtracted," Benefield said. "So it's much less than what students cost on instruction and student services. [Hopkins'] argument is somewhat deceptive." [emphasis added]
Finally, I am troubled by Rep. Vitali's comments, not to mention his proposed legislation:

"My bill doesn't take away any parental choice," because parents can still send their children to a cyber charter school established by public schools, Vitali told The Bulletin. ...

Vitali said that if cyber charters do in fact save taxpayer money, his bill will save even more when school districts can create their own in-house.

These comments make no sense. Parents can currently chose any of the 11 cyber schools in the state. Under Vitali's bill, if a school district creates their own cyber school, parents would have only one choice. That is certainly taking away choices.

And how his bill will "save even more" is beyond my comprehension. Why would a district-run cyber would be cheaper than a chartered cyber? In fact, it is likely to be both more expensive and lower quality, given that it will have a monopoly, it will get money from taxpayers regardless of how many students it can attract, and the propensity of school districts to spend as much as they can.


Shari said...

Nathan Benefield is the one consistant, and perhaps the only voice of reason weighing in on this rediculous debate.

First of all, there are requirements set by law to be a cyber school that the Department of Education seems willing to completely overlook. For example, there is a long and arduous process to become a cyber school that I would challenge the brick and mortars to try and accomplish. If the district schools were held to the same rigorous standards for their schools, never mind their "cybers" there would be few, if any, public schools that could open in September. They could never stand up to the level of accountability that cybers must.

Second, according to Pennsylvania Law, cyber schools must accept any student who is a resident of the state of PA. Do you really think that Haverford SD is going to accept students from its neighbor -Philadelphia? Come now and let us reason together - that is not going to happen!!

Third, if we are going to demand such an accounting for the per student expenditures for cybers or any charter (all public schools) why are we not demanding the same for the very wasteful districts who are spending copious amounts of money and yet parents are fighting for FAPE for their students every day of their lives - and many are still not receiving it. Many parents eventually give up in despair and exhaustion to "the experts" many of whom will admit that it is cheaper not to provide the services and have to pay the very few cases that end up being won in Due Process. I know that first hand, with my child, for whom I eventually won but not before hiring a very expensive attorney who looked at the facts of the case and could see that it was a no brainer.

That school paid more for the attorney they hired to fight me than they would have had they provided the most outstanding services available.

My point is this: For every student that the districts pay a cyber school to educate they increase their per-pupil available funding. Yet they are still whining that it's not enough. They keep all the funding for homeschoolers for whom they provide nothing. These things, among others, such as grants and funding that are not available to cybers really put their per pupil funds very high.

On top of this high funding, they are raising property taxes, most districts the maximum or more and the money they save on cyber students and homeschool students are not returned to the taxpayers.

Why are the school district's spending practices not the ones being called into question? Mr. Auditor General, I challenge you to investigate the districts!! Please let me know what you find.

Shari Draayer

cbravar said...

"My life is an indivisible whole, and all my attitudes run into one another; and they all have their rise in my insatiable love for mankind." -- Mahatma Gandhi
a few ex-school board members on this panel and no one from a cyber. That tells me that this whole concept is "slanted" away "My life is an indivisible whole, and all my attitudes run into one another; and they all have their rise in my insatiable love for mankind." -- Mahatma Gandhi
reason of what that money was intended for?" Obviuosly the cybers are doing what the brick and mortars have been unable to do for some of Pennsylvania's children. Why deprive a child of an "My life is an indivisible whole, and all my attitudes run into one another; and they all have their rise in my insatiable love for mankind." -- Mahatma Gandhi
Thank you!