Classroom Technology

Pa. Districts Pay for Growing Use of Cyber Schools

By McClatchy-Tribune — August 23, 2010 4 min read

Paying for students in Pennsylvania to attend public cyber charter schools has become increasingly expensive for school districts as more students have chosen to attend those schools.

State policy requires that Pennsylvania districts fund a student’s enrollment in a cyber charter school. The state reimburses districts for a portion of those costs, typically 30 percent of the costs for students receiving traditional services.

Business Manager Eric Holtzman of the Tuscarora school system said that each regular education student who enrolls in a cyber charter school costs the district about $6,668, and special education students can cost around $14,000.

Mr. Holtzman said the total cost paid out by 2,700-student Tuscarora district, situated in Mercersburg about an hour southwest of Harrisburg, for cyber charter school students during the 2004-05 school year was $108,000. This year, the cost is expected to be around $475,000, with roughly 60 students enrolled in six cyber charter schools.

Mr. Holtzman said that although districts have the expense of paying for a child’s cyber schooling, they can’t reduce costs based on enrollment reductions at district schools because most cyber charter enrollees are scattered among grade levels and schools, making it difficult to cut teacher positions or other budget items based on enrollment drops.

“I reduce my class sizes by five or 10 kids, but I can’t really reduce my expenses. That’s the problem,” Mr. Holtzman said.

The 8,700-student Chambersburg Area School District, roughly 15 miles northeast of Mercersburg, has seen a similar spike in the number of students enrolling in cyber schools and the associated costs. During the 2004-05 school year, 42 students were enrolled in cyber charter schools at some point during the school year. Five years later, the number had increased to 241 students, costing almost $1.5 million before state reimbursement.

Tuscarora Superintendent Rebecca Erb said one year of paying for the district’s cyber school students is equivalent to what a year of debt service will cost on the $17 million renovation project at James Buchanan High School.

The Cyber Choice

One-third of Tuscarora’s cyber students currently attend the Pennsylvania Cyber School, one of the largest in the state, with an enrollment of around 9,000.

Statewide, about 27,000 students are enrolled in 11 cyber charter schools, which Fred Miller, the communications coordinator for the Pennsylvania Cyber School, noted is about 1 percent to 2 percent of the entire student population of the state.

Mr. Miller said that families who choose to enroll their children in a cyber charter school usually fall into one of three categories.

Some families that come from smaller districts with fewer elective course offerings will sometimes choose a cyber school because they offer a broader range of classes.

Others will choose a cyber school because it provides scheduling flexibility, with some classes being self-paced while others meet regularly online for instruction.

Lastly, Mr. Miller said, some students will leave traditional schools for an online setting because they felt bullied at the brick-and-mortar schools or simply felt as if they didn’t fit in.

Mr. Miller cited 17-year-old singer Aaron Kelly, who was a contestant on “American Idol” while also attending the Pennsylvania Cyber School last spring, as an example of why students and parents like the flexibility of a virtual school.

Much like individual school districts, cyber charter schools are held to the same standards academically, with students required to take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams each year. With 9,000 students and no tangible school buildings, Mr. Miller said that alone is an interesting challenge. The cyber school sets up 30 testing sites across the state and encourages parents to bring their children to the sites for the exams. The school exceeded the 95 percent participation threshold for the exams, which is required by the state.

However, the state told the school this summer that it must better align its curriculum with state standards by March or run the risk of having its new five-year charter revoked. The school received its new charter from the state in June contingent upon submitting new curriculum guidelines across nearly all subject areas.

District Offerings

Meanwhile, to meet the demand of students who want more variety and flexibility, school districts are starting to develop their own cyber programs.

Ms. Erb said 12 to 18 Tuscarora students are currently enrolled in a blended model that combines in-class instruction with online learning. The program has allowed the district to expand its foreign-language offerings; students are now learning how to speak Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese.

“We continue to seek ways in the district to add value to our programs, so there’s flexibility for all students,” Ms. Erb said. “I see more people choosing the flexibility of a virtual school.”

The Chambersburg district has also developed an e-learning program. Last year, 20 teachers at the high school were developing methods for their classes to be taught online and in the classroom.

Chemistry teacher Sean Wible has been teaching a summer class for the past two years in which instruction is given using web cameras, and office hours are offered once a week.

The district’s goal is to have every student experience a class that is taught online and in person before graduation.

A version of this article appeared in the August 25, 2010 edition of Education Week as Pa. Districts Pay for Growing Use of Cyber Schools

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology How K-12 Schools Tamed Silicon Valley
Forget disruption. Ed-tech startups Clever and Nearpod just sold for a combined $1 billion because they solved schools’ everyday problems.
10 min read
Clever co-founders, left to right, Tyler Bosmeny, Dan Carroll, and Rafael Garcia at the company’s San Francisco headquarters in 2015.
Clever co-founders, left to right, Tyler Bosmeny, Dan Carroll, and Rafael Garcia at the company’s San Francisco headquarters in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Hanh Nguyen
Classroom Technology Like Police Officers, Educators Have Been Caught on Camera Behaving Badly
Several recent incidents show how students and parents can use their cellphones to capture abusive or racist behavior by some educators.
9 min read
cellphone video 1242161726 02
Petro Bevz/iStock/Getty
Classroom Technology School District Leaders Are Still Worried About Home Internet Access for Students
Schools have scaled-up their efforts to help more kids get online, according to a new survey, but concerns remain about tech equity.
2 min read
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework in her Chicago home after a day of virtual school in February.
Shafkat Anowar/AP
Classroom Technology Teachers: Here Are Tips for Using Your New 'Geeky' Skills to Improve Classroom Management
How educators can use the lessons of the pandemic to reshape classroom management for next school year and beyond.
6 min read
A group of people manage a complicated problem
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus