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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Answers to Attacks on Cyber Schools

One of our loyal readers asked for some help responding to attacks on Cyber School Funding and a lobbying effort by Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) in support of HB 446 (sponsored by Rep. Beyer).

Essentially the claims of the critic were that cyber schools take money from school districts, don't need as much money because they have no buildings, have excessive fund surpluses, don't require students to take the state tests (PSSA), have no accountability, don't educate special needs students, only take formerly homeschooled students, and a number of other myths. The PSBA push is centered on the claim the HB 446 will save taxpayers $18 million.

We answered these claims in our report Edifice Complex and in our Cyber Schools FAQ as well as previously on this blog, but here is quick rundown of my response:

  1. Cyber schools get NO FUNDING for buildings and other expenses, no federal funds, and no funding for special education except for special education students (about 11% of all cyber students). In total this means that cyber schools get only about 73% of the funding per-pupil as public schools.

  2. Total spending on cyber schools is 0.49% of total education spending. School Districts spend 22 times that amount on school construction alone. Beyer's bill would save homeowners (by her own estimates) about $4 per homeowner.

  3. Public schools have large surpluses as well. The only limit on surpluses in when schools want to issue new debt. About 30% of districts had fund surpluses in excess of the limit they want to impose on cyber schools.

  4. Cyber schools need to keep a surplus because (a) they are growing and (b) school districts often refuse to pay. Tim Allwein of the PSBA even attempted to justify this non-payment like school districts are Henry David Thoroueau practicing civil disobedience.

  5. Cyber schools reports to the state are readily available. When we testified on Beyer's bill, Bob Maranto took a picture of himself next to the bookshelf full of binders at one of the cyber schools.

  6. Cyber schools students Do TAKE the PSSA, their results are posted online at PAAYP.com.

  7. Cyber school students DO NOT come from primarily from previously homeschooled families. Cyber enrollment went from 0 to 20,000 in 7 years. The number of home schooled students went from 23,900 to 22,200 in that time. School district enrollment dropped 70,000.

  8. Since cyber students cost so much less, and the school district gets reimbursed from the state, they keep about 50% of the per-pupil funding for children they no longer educate. This allows them to increase per-pupil spending, while reducing class size and the need for new construction.

  9. Cyber schools can be shut down if not performing adequately. They only get funding when parents choose them—let's apply these same standards to school districts.

  10. Beyer's bill would fund cyber schools at the level of the "lowest spending school to reach AYP." Why doesn't the PSBA supporting limiting school districts' funding to the same standard?

  11. Cyber schools offer choice for parents, funding the goes to the education of children (rather than awarded to districts), offer a chance to improve educational performance, provide greater safety, personalized educational plans, and options for special needs students, and reduces costs to taxpayers. The school boards are only interested in keeping the money.

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