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Charter Advocates Discuss Cyber School Funding

Cyber charter school advocates testified before the Pennsylvania House Education Committee today, hoping to help lawmakers amend a bill that would overhaul the state's system of chartering non-district schools.

The committee was interested in the funding of internet-based charter schools, said Bob Fayfich, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

From a taxpayer's perspective, Fayfich said it costs the same amount to send a child to a cyber charter school as a district. The difference is in how the tax dollars are spent.

"If you send your child to a traditional public school in the city of Pittsburgh, all the taxpayer money goes to the school district," explained Fayfich. "If you send the child either to a cyber or charter school, then 59 percent of that money goes to the charter school and the rest stays with the school district."

He said the money that stays with the district is used to pay for buildings and administrative costs, among other things. The amount withheld by each district depends on how many "exemptions" are claimed. There are 21 possible exemptions.

"What the school districts will say is that, 'Yes, but if you lose one or two or three students to a cyber school, that really doesn't give us any cost-savings down the line, because we still have to have a fixed cost to provide certain facilities to all of our remaining students,'" said Fayfich.

However, he said the "charter community" contends that school districts are receiving enough compensation through their exemptions, since they no longer have to pay for the education of the cyber school students.

Lawmakers are hoping to revamp House Bill 1348, a charter schools bill that has languished in the Education Committee since April. The legislation would establish a "State Commission on Charter Schools and Cyber Charter Schools" to hold primary authority over charter issues.

Under the bill, the power to create, renew, or deny charters would shift from host school districts to the new Commission. The SCCSCCS would create an advisory board to make recommendations on long-term regulation of charter schools.

Critics at the Education Law Center said passage of the bill "would have permitted the unfettered expansion of charter schools throughout the state, reduced accountability, and effectively removed all local control of charters."

According to Fayfich, about 90,000 Pennsylvania students are in charter schools, with roughly a third of those in cyber schools. Combined with a 40,000-person waiting list, Fayfich said that population amounts to about 5 percent of Pennsylvania students.