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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

(Not) A closer look at Cyber Schools

IssuesPA has a new article on Cyber School Funding. They claim to provide "a closer look at the ongoing debate", but don't look any closer than quoting what some school district officials tell them. With a quick bit of research (even, say reading this blog), IssuesPA would discover several factual errors in their article.

For instance, they state:

Unlike traditional school districts, cyber schools are permitted to accumulate surpluses with no cap.
This is blatantly false - though it would be true if they change "unlike" to "like." There is no limit on school districts' fund balances except when seeking to issue new bonds. At the end of 2005-06, 187 districts (37%) had fund balances in excess of this so-called cap. Twenty-six districts (5%) had balances in excess of 30% of their expenditures. We discussed fund balances of districts and cyber schools in Edifice Complex, and have an extended blog post on the issue here.

They go on to note:
According to many district officials, many cyber school students are former home school students for which the districts receive no current state reimbursement
If IssuesPA had done any research other than quoting "many district officials", they would realize this claim has no support. Prior to the creation of cyber schools there were 24,000 homeschooled students, today there are 22,300. Meanwhile, there were over 16,000 cyber school students in 2006-07, and an estimated 20,000 this year.

IssuesPA points out that cyber schools receive far less funding, per-pupil, than districts spend, but recites the charge that "critics maintain" that:

The cost is much lower than traditional schools because cyber schools do not pay for things like maintenance or utilities.
They should point out, as we have, that the funding formula means cyber schools already receive no funding for maintenance or utilities, or for construction, debt, and numerous other categories of spending.

They also repeat the absurd claim that:
Price’s school district [East Lycoming], for instance, started its own cyber school where costs run $1,500 to $2,000 per student, compared to the district’s 2004 per pupil cost of $8,494 for “traditional schooling.”
I would love to check that out, but if you visit East Lycoming's website, you will not find any mention of this cyber school. There is no enrollment data for this cyber school. PDE has no financial records for this school. There is no record of academic performance for this cyber school - whereas every cyber and charter school in the state is listed. In other words, there is no East Lycoming cyber school.

Perhaps the districts offers online services to students (though there is no mention of that on their website either), but that raises a whole host of questions: Are they counting teacher salaries as part of the "cyber school" costs? Are they counting adminstrative cost, or even Mr. Price's salary? Are any students actually enrolled? What services are they provided? If East Lycoming is offering comparable services, why are students leaving for cyber schools? And if East Lycoming's "cyber school" is so cost efficient, why not set it up as a cyber charter school and get students from across PA, competing with the 11 other cybers schools they think receive too much funding?

Too bad IssuesPA didn't ask any of those question or do any research themselves. For a more accurate understanding of cyber schools, read our FAQ.

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