As a member of the Conneaut School Board, I want to inform readers about cyber charter school tuition payments that Conneaut School District has been required by PA Cyber Charter School Law to pay to outside, for-profit, cyber charter schools. I’m also asking readers to contact our elected state representatives, state senators and Gov. Tom Wolf to support House Bill 526 sponsored by Rep. Curt Sonney and Senate Bill 34 sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank to update the 2002 PA Cyber Charter School Law.
Conneaut School District, covering a geographical area of 319 square miles in western Crawford County, recognized cyber school eight years ago and created our own cyber curriculum to serve district families. Conneaut’s cyber curriculum has proved beneficial to hundreds of students’ education needs through either full-cyber or blended-cyber (combination of cyber and brick-and-mortar curriculums).
For example, during the 2018-19 school year, over 180 Conneaut students participated in Conneaut’s cyber curriculum with 11 being full-cyber and the remaining using the blended option. Conneaut’s cyber students with their parents or guardians are required to periodically meet with our faculty and guidance counselors to ensure they remain on track toward graduation requirements. Students receive remedial tutoring when difficulties arise. This greatly reduces failures and wasting valuable tax dollars.
Graduation rates of Conneaut cyber and blended-cyber students mirrors the 93 percent graduation rate of Conneaut District traditional students. Also, there are usually five to 10 students each year that are in 11th grade meeting graduation requirements through simultaneously completing 12th grade cyber classes in math and English. These precocious students matriculate onto post-secondary opportunities a year ahead of schedule, high school diploma in hand! These numbers have been consistent over the past four school years.
Despite having our own successful cyber option, Conneaut School District has been required by the 2002 Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School Law to pay in excess of $7.6 million tax dollars to outside cyber charter schools since 2014-15. Moreover, for the fiscal year ending June 30, Conneaut School District is paying over $1.5 million tax dollars or an average $16,505 per student to outside cyber charter businesses.
The average amount per regular education student is $13,324 and $32,626 for each special education student enrolled in outside cyber charter business. Despite these mandatory fees, statewide performance of these outside cyber charter schools has been poor. Of the 13 current Pennsylvania cyber charter businesses, four-year, on-time graduation rates after students begin high school range from 31 percent to 71 percent. Only five exceed a 60 percent graduation rate within four years of starting high school.
There are no repercussions to these schools for failing these students under the 2002 law. It’s obvious to me that part of the business model for these for-profit cyber schools is to keep students from meeting high school graduation requirements until they reach 21 years of age. This is when public school districts are no longer required by law to pay tuition to these for-profit schools. Clearly, these tax monies are not achieving a high school diploma for these students or being used as effectively as Conneaut’s own students using Conneaut’s’ cyber curriculum.
The two pending bills noted above currently in the General Assembly would amend the 2002 law so that if a student’s local school district has its own cyber school curriculum, district students would attend that cyber school first. If those students wished to select another cyber school, the home district (such as Conneaut) would not be mandated to pay another cyber charter school.
This one change would immediately flip the long-term budget outlook for Conneaut School District from annual deficits to annual surpluses. It would also better serve our students by improving their opportunity to graduate on time with a high school diploma.
Conneaut School District and its Board of School Directors have long recognized the need to integrate 21st century cyber learning as part of our curriculum. We’re fully supportive of providing cyber opportunities to enhance education of our students. But I’m asking for support of HB 526 and SB 34 to enable Conneaut tax dollars to remain in our district to educate our students with our own highly effective cyber school curriculum.
Kevin Jacobs is a member of the Conneaut Board of School Directors.