Cyber charter schools give parents an online alternative to brick and mortar public schools that may be failing their individual students, but legislation being introduced by Representative Curt Sonney of Erie County, may dramatically reduce the choices available.
What is the problem with cyber charter schools?
Currently, students can choose from a number of cyber charter schools in the state as a way to fulfill their educational needs. When a student enrolls in a school, their home district makes a payment to the charter school to cover the costs of educating the child. Schools districts around the state, the Erie School District being a prime example, are struggling with budget shortfalls, so any student leaving to study under a cyber charter school option takes money from the district and not surprisingly, school districts are strongly opposed to sending any payments anywhere else in the state.
What does Curt Sonney propose?
Under Sonney’s proposal, when the student’s home district has a cyber option, that is the one they must choose. If they still prefer another school, the parents or student must pay the cyber school fees previously covered by their school district, though in reality, few families will be able to do this. Rep. Sonney says his bill will encourage school districts without a cyber school option to establish one to offer to their students.
What’s the obvious problem with Curt Sonney’s proposal?
If the school district has already failed the student with their curriculum, teaching methods or school environment, what are the chances their cyber option will be superior to other alternatives? If schools are guaranteed payment simply by having a cyber option, there’s no incentive to offer a quality online experience, especially if fewer students will be able to afford any cyber school outside their district. This reduces school choice and may threaten the existence of some cyber charter schools altogether. While this serves the interests of the teachers and administration, it is not in the best interests of the students or their parents.
Why not try excellence and competition?
The schools could take on the challenge of keeping their students in their home district by offering superior online coursework. If school districts strive for excellence online, success means they not only retain their own students, but they could also attract students from around the state, although, in that case, Sonney’s legislation would penalize those students outside the district wanting to enroll in Erie County cyber schools, blocking money the Erie County schools might otherwise earn.
If the options are bad, provide something better
Perhaps public schools have no desire to compete with other districts or cyber schools. Perhaps they don’t feel they can offer a superior online experience, but instead of criticizing cyber charter schools elsewhere as being an inferior choice, doesn’t it make sense to compete for students by offering something clearly superior. If school districts are losing students to cyber alternatives, the answer is to offer something better, not promoting legislation forcing them to stay.
Summary of Curt Sonney’s bill
Representative Sonney’s bill requiring parents to pay charter schools
Senate bill removing school district payment to cyber charter schools
The death of cyber charter schools in Pa.?