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November 30, 2021 | Good Morning! This is the daily newsletter PA Charter Change Roundup, produced by the Keystone Center for Charter Change at PSBA. For more info, check out our website The news stories reflect all sides of the issues and may not be reflective of the mission of the Keystone Center for Charter Change or PSBA.

Capitolwire: School superintendents describe intensifying challenges of skyrocketing cyber school tuition bills

Capitolwire by John Finnerty, November 26, 2021 (Republished with permission)

State lawmakers ended their fall legislative session without confronting the budget-busting crisis for local school districts faced with skyrocketing cyber school bills. A group of school superintendents described the challenges they’re facing trying to manage their cyber school bills while waiting for state action on the issue in a roundtable discussion sponsored Friday by the Keystone Center for Charter Change, an initiative of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Lawrence Feinberg, director of the Center for Charter Change, said that 1-in-5 dollars in local property tax is now being diverted out of the traditional public schools and to charter schools and the cyber schools. He said the schools group would like the General Assembly to act on House Bill 272, introduced by Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery. Feinberg said the legislation has bipartisan support, with about 20 percent of the more than 70 cosponsors of the bill being Republicans.
Among the provisions included in that legislation would be the creation of a statewide cyber school rate. Under existing law, each school district calculates its cost to educate students and then deducts a portion for things like transportation and the costs of building upkeep.
Gov. Tom Wolf has publicly called on the General Assembly to act on the legislation but it has not moved out of the Education Committee.
The need for action should be obvious, school superintendents said.
Mark Kudlawiec, superintendent of Chestnut Ridge School District in Bedford County said that the spike in cyber school costs are “shocking” and “have really taken a toll” on his district.

Kudlawiec said that his cyber schools went from $585,178 in 2019-2020 to $1.2 million in this year’s budget. “This year's cost is 5.8% of my annual budget. I raise about $50,000 a year in a mill, I can raise almost four mills,” he said. “I can't raise enough millage just to cover my cyber school expenses, last year to this year. I can't raise it. So where does that come out of?” He said that the district will either need to tap into its savings to close the gap or consider cuts, including possible staff cuts, “or something of that nature.”
Todd Beatty, superintendent of the Northern Bedford School District, said that the district’s cyber tuition costs per student aren’t that much different from their costs of educating students in the traditional school setting. But the traditional schools have many costs that the cyber schools don’t. That includes the cost of building renovations and the costs associated with extra-curricular programs, he said. Athletics alone costs about $350,00 in his district. Northern Bedford’s high school football team has advanced into the state playoffs which means the district will pay thousands of dollars to bus students to the playoff games. “I highly doubt that cyber schools have that,” he said. “I cannot comprehend how any politician in Harrisburg looking at these numbers is unable to recognize the disparity,” Beatty said.
Charles Prijatel, superintendent of the Altoona Area School District, said that, like many other school districts, his district operates its own cyber program. The school district’s program costs less per student and it provides a greater measure of accountability because if students are struggling academically in the cyber program, the district will shift the student back into the traditional brick-and-mortar school. Prijatel said that the district’s cost to run its own cyber program for more than 560 students is about $1 million a year a year. The district’s tuition bill for about 260 students attending outside cyber schools was $4.5 million last year.
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Any editorial comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.

Lawrence A. Feinberg, Director
Keystone Center for Charter Change
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The mission of the Keystone Center for Charter Change at PSBA (Pennsylvania School Boards Association) is to build support for the development and enactment of legislation that would provide regulatory and funding changes to Pennsylvania’s 23-year-old Charter School Law. We advocate for fiscal and regulatory reforms that level the playing field and treat all public schools fairly. The focus of the Keystone Center for Charter Change will support Pennsylvania’s public-school districts. Our work will include active advocacy on behalf of charter reform, timely research, increased awareness, along with education and thought leadership on charter accountability.

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