Cyber Charter Schools Raise Larger Questions About Public Ed Funding

Mar 14, 2013

As state lawmakers consider proposed changes to funding cyber charter schools, larger problems with how public education is funded are drawing attention. 

Pennsylvania school districts pay for every charter and cyber charter school student who would otherwise go to their schools.  

But student costs vary from district to district because of the way state funding is allocated. So what charter schools receive is based on each district, not on the charter’s per-student costs.

Joanne Jones Barnett, CEO of the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, is asking state House lawmakers to consider a comprehensive overhaul to correct the district-to-district inequities.

"First of all, we need to look at what is broken," she said. "That is the funding model for all education in the commonwealth."

But advocates for both school districts and cyber charter schools differ on how to deal with the funding inequities schools across the state face.

Representative Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster County) said he’s hesitant to vote for changes that would tweak the amount of money flowing from school districts to charter and cyber charter schools and not alter the way all public education is funded.

"My concern with a piecemeal approach is that we perhaps are taking away legitimate options for students," he said. "I am interested in the conversation about children in two different school districts receiving different allocations of funds as it flows from the state. Shouldn’t we really start there?"

Stuart Knade, head of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said there are obvious changes that can be made while lawmakers study how to eliminate inequities in public education across school districts.  

"Should we hold off on doing some obvious stuff that generates the immediate relief while we look for a grand bargain?" he said. "I think that’s a mistake to do that."

The changes before lawmakers would require school districts to pay less money to cyber charter schools.