Achievement House Blog

truth-about-cyber-schools

The Truth About Cyber Schools

Alane Butler
  • Cyber charter schools are a popular school choice enrolling over 32,000 students across Pennsylvania and over 250,000 in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, cyber charter schools are the only form of public school choice that is open to all students in the state – any student living anywhere in PA may enroll. As cyber charter schools flourish in Pennsylvania, misinformation about cyber schools also increases. Let’s Fact Check some popular claims and statements.

Cyber charter schools are real schools.

TRUE

Cyber charter schools are real, tuition-free public schools approved by the PA Department of Education (PDE). A rigorous chartering and 5-year renewal process ensures that every aspect of a cyber charter school is carefully examined by the PDE on a regular schedule.

As a public school, cyber charters:

  • follow designated PDE regulations and submit annual audits and reports;
  • administer state assessment tests (PSSA and Keystone);
  • offer a comprehensive program of study that meets or exceeds PA and/or Common Core Academic Standards;
  • confer valid high school diplomas recognized by colleges, employers, and the military. In fact, cyber charter schools are now considered Tier 1, along with traditional schools;
  • employ highly-qualified teachers, guidance counselors, specialists and support personnel.

Cyber charter schools are able to select the students who enroll.

FALSE

All PA students are eligible to enroll in a cyber charter school as stated in §1723-A of the Charter School law:

"All resident children in the Commonwealth qualify for admission to a charter school."

"A charter school shall not discriminate in its admission policies or practices on the basis of intellectual ability, athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a personwith a disability, proficiency in the English language or any other basis that would be illegal if used by a school district."

It is important to note that Pennsylvania cyber charter schools are the only form of tuition-free public school choice that is open to all students—any student living anywhere in the state.

Cyber school students are not socialized.

FALSE

Cyber school students have many opportunities to socialize, including:

  • participating in live, virtual classes;
  • forming virtual friendships in online classes and clubs;
  • working with other students virtually or in person if attending onsite programs;
  • meeting students face-to-face at field trips, community service projects, and other spon-sored activities;
  • joining local community sports programs, youth activities, volunteer projects, etc.;
  • participating in extracurricular activities available in their home districts.

Cyber charter school teachers also have more time to interact one-on-one with students. In fact, many cyber students find they have more individual, one-on-one attention than in traditional schools.

With so many academic and social options to meet teachers and other students, parents of cyber school students are better able to create the optimum social environment for their child by selecting the most appropriate activities for him or her.

Cyber schools cost taxpayers too much!

FALSE

The truth is—cyber charter schools educate students with less money! How?

Funding:

PA law established a statewide funding formula used by all cyber charter schools and school districts. The formula is based on each district’s cost-per-student. Since each school district spends a different amount, per-student payments to cyber charter schools also vary by district.

Cyber charter schools receive payments from the home school district of each student. The payment, calculated using the state formula, is usually only 75%-80% of the district’s per-student cost. So if a district spends $12,000 per student, cyber charter schools receive only $9,000 to educate the student. The home district keeps the remaining 25%-30% to defray certain expenses. Cyber charter schools truly educate students using only a fraction of the amount spent by the home districts.

School districts are supposed to make monthly payments directly to the cyber school. Since there is no penalty for non-payment, some districts refuse to send payments during the school year. Cyber charter schools must then wait for this funding until the PDE makes such payments during the summer.

It is important to note: Each cyber school’s budget is limited by the total amount of payments received from school districts. Since cyber schools do not have the authority to tax anyone, they must live within their budget.

Costs:

In addition to traditional expenses, such as curriculum materials, salaries for teachers and specialists, and buildings to house staff and onsite programs, cyber schools have many unique expenses:

  • Equipment – All students receive laptops, printers, accessories and Internet reimbursement.
  • IT Support – A team of experts keeps student and staff computers running smoothly and the technology infrastructure working.
  • PSSA and Keystone exam expenses – Unlike traditional schools that use their own classrooms when administering state assessments, cyber schools must rent facilities across the state and pay expenses for teachers and staff to travel to the sites to give the tests. Cyber schools may use upwards of 30 sites across the state.
  • Additional staff – To make the enrollment process easy, a pupil services team handles admissions paperwork and follow-up. Another team provides thorough orientations that enable students to have a smooth start and give parents tools to check their student’s work and grades.

It is important to know that the financial records of each cyber charter are audited and monitored by the state to ensure accountability.

Cyber charter schools are all the same.

FALSE

When cyber charter schools began to open in PA more than ten years ago, online K-12 education was in its infancy. For the first time, students across the state were given computers and taught virtually. There are currently 16 different Pennsylvania cyber charter schools offering families real school choice.

Cyber schools vary in many aspects:

Management: A few cybers are independent, nonprofit schools managed locally; many are part of national management companies;

  • Online only or blended (online and onsite): Some cyber schools offer blended programs with students learning online and onsite; others schools offer only online learning;
  • Live classes or only computer: A few schools offer live virtual classes that students attend to interact with the teacher and other students; more schools have only online course work;
  • Curriculum: Teachers develop the curriculum and courses in some schools; other schools buy packaged programs;
  • Teachers: Some cyber schools have teachers working onsite as a faculty of professionals; others allow teachers to work from home.
  • School district cyber schools: In an effort to offer an online program to their students, school districts are creating their own cyber schools that are different from independent cyber charter schools. For example, district cyber schools do not follow the same rigorous charter procedures regulated by the PA Department of Education.

Parents and students should find out the facts about each cyber charter school by visiting websites and asking questions and select the one that best suits the student’s academic needs and learning style.

Parents must seek approval from their home district to enroll in a cyber school.

FALSE

Enrolling in a cyber charter school is just like moving from one town to another. Parents do not need to receive approval from the home district. In fact, if the home district puts restrictions on students leaving to enroll in an independent cyber charter school, parents should request a copy of written school policies outlining such steps or contact the PA Department of Education directly.

Enrolling in a cyber charter school is usually easy:

  • Parents complete required forms and present required documents.
  • Parents and student attend an orientation (onsite or virtual).
  • Students take placement tests to ensure assignment to appropriate courses.
  • Students receive a free computer, printer, and accessories as well as Internet reimbursement.
  • Parents should withdraw their student from the home district on the day of cyber charter school orientation. They may also ask the school to send transcripts and other documents to the new school. The cyber charter school will also officially notify the home district of the student’s enrollment and request copies of specific documents.

Students may participate in sports and clubs at their home districts.

TRUE

"The Charter School Law requires a charter school student’s school district of residence to allow the student to participate in the school district’s extra-curricular activities if the student is able to fulfill the requirements of participation and the charter school does not provide the same extracurricular activity. The requirements of participation shall apply equally to charter school students and students attending schools of the school district."
(PA BEC, 24 P.S. §17-1701-A)

Cyber charter schools support the rights of their students to utilize activities in their home district. Districts who care about students living within their borders comply with this mandate, which benefits the student and the school.

Cyber charter schools meet the diverse needs of students.

TRUE

Students and parents chose cyber schools for a variety of reasons:

  • seeking an environment that is safer than their local school, whether in a cyber program at home or an onsite center;
  • wanting more customization so the education experience meets the academic needs and learning style of the student;
  • needing more challenging courses;
  • needing personalized special education;
  • pursuing a career in the arts, sports, science, or any other interest that requires flexibility;
  • switching from a home school program to be part of a more structured education model;
  • coping with life situations, such as parenting, illness, or bullying:
  • needing a fresh start.

In a cyber charter school, students can find a program that enhances their educational options...and it is free to all students living in Pennsylvania!