Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cyber Schools Are Popular

In Pennsylvania, online, computer-based education for secondary school has become very popular. Charter “cyber” schools have a right to obtain reimbursement from local public school districts for students in districts that enroll. One cyber school alone has grown to 11,000 students, and is now larger than some public school districts in Pennsylvania. In a cyber school, children take their courses through computers. Some participate in “virtual” classes with other students at the same time online, but that is not required. The families enjoy more independence and are able to avoid some of the cultural problems that plague traditional public schools.

Public schools have gotten upset about the large amounts of money shifted from their budgets to independent cyber charter schools. So public schools have been cheering a recent decision by the Pennsylvania appellate court allowing them to cut off that money for the online education of 4-year-olds by cyber schools. In the “K4” program at one cyber charter school, there are about 605 four-year-olds being taught online at a cost of roughly $4 million to public schools that pay their tuition. The school districts have been paying between $6,000 and $10,000 per year in tuition charges for four-year-olds who live in their districts while attending a cyber charter school.

The state court ruled that those payments may stop because the public school districts themselves do not enroll children as young as four years old. Pennsylvania state law does not require public schools to offer kindergarten programs. Public schools are required to begin teaching children only at age six, although many enroll children as young as age five. Most cyber schools in Pennsylvania do not enroll children as young as four years old, so this decision is unlikely to slow down the growing use of online education as an alternative to the failing public schools.

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