With some parents opting to send their children to cyber-charter schools because of the pandemic, school districts in the county are facing mounting financial challenges.
The Mars Area School District school board is contemplating actions for how they’ll deal with a $1.3 million deficit. That’s because the district has to pay cyber-charter schools to teach the students.
Mars Business Manager Jill Swaney explains.
“Under the PA School Code, if any charter schools that is recognized by the state, when students enroll in those charter schools, their home district has to pay their tuition,” Swaney said. “And it’s based on a tuition rate that is based on the school’s cost to operate.”
At Mars, that number is around $10,000 per student, and up to $22,000 for a special education student. Swaney argues that the funding mechanism is unfair to the public schools because their operating costs don’t change even if they lose students.
“Every time a child goes to a cyber school, you take money away from the public education system,” Swaney said. “They’re always out there saying we mismanage money, and tax and spend, but then they come up with a funding mechanism for cyber school that we have no means to recoup that money.”
“So we either have to cut that program, cut a staff member, or raise taxes,” Swaney added.
The Seneca Valley School District school board passed a resolution in October calling upon the General Assemly to “meaningfully revise the existing flawed charter school funding systems for regular and special education to ensure that school districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying these schools or reimbursing for costs the charter schools do not incur.”
Swaney also adds that cyber-charter schools have reportedly not needed to hire additional staff with the influx of students.
According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report, the PA Cyber School had an influx of 1,900 students at the start of this school year. With the average tuition of each student at $15,000, the Cyber School saw their revenues increase around $28.5 million.
Swaney though also adds that public schools aren’t opposed to charter schools, just the way they’re funded.
“We totally agree, parents have a choice. They can go to private schools, charter schools, cyber schools, public schools, wherever,” Swaney said. “But we’re asking that the funding mechanism not impact the public school system.”
State Representative Marci Mustello (R-PA 11) said there are continuing discussions in Harrisburg regarding the funding of cyber charter schools.
“I know it’s draining for schools, and right now it’s even more draining,” Mustello said of the finances for public schools.
Mustello said she hopes it’s addressed at the beginning of the next legislative session.