As our district overpays cyber charter $ 2.7 million – Morning Call

On May 9, the Bethlehem School Board adopted the proposed balanced budget for the 2022-2023 school year. This spending plan, which will be finally approved on June 20, will allow us to offer first-class educational opportunities to our students while keeping taxes low in our community.

While I’m excited about what’s to come next year, I also want to sound the alarm about the need to reform charter school funding.

The pandemic has overturned traditional schooling for many families, and the number of students entering cyber charter schools in the Bethlehem area has increased by 92% since 2019. During the same period, the number of students in charter schools with bricks and mortars decreased by 9%, which means an increase – and the associated pressure on the budget – due to cyber charter schools.

You’ve probably seen ads claiming that charter schools are “free public schools”. These announcements do not say that taxpayers in the Bethlehem School District will pay nearly $ 35 million for charter school tuition in 2022-2023, making charters the second largest cost after pensions.

The county pays $ 29,615 for each special education student and $ 13,393 for each non-special education student enrolling in a cyber charter school, far exceeding their actual costs. Cyber ​​charter schools are not required to have elected school boards, which means that local taxpayers are not entitled to how cyber charter schools spend their money.

Other states have found a better way, and Pennsylvania’s time has followed suit. Recent report from PA Charter Performance Centerproject with Children firstis deeply immersed in funding and oversight policies in 27 other states that allow cyber charter schools, and offers some strategies for Pennsylvania.

First, replace the wasteful Pennsylvania cyber payment formula with a nationwide tuition rate.

Bethlehem County Internal Cyber ​​Academy costs less than half the cost of tuition at a cyber charter school we are required to pay. In addition, cyber charter schools receive the same training as charters, although their operating costs are much lower. But Pennsylvania continues to pay the same amount for tuition in both types of schools.

Eleven states have sharpened their pencils and pay cyber charter schools less than charters receive. Pennsylvania should follow suit by standardizing cyber learning across the state.

Governor Wolf’s latest budget proposal will set the rate at $ 9,800 and end the overpayment for special training, saving Bethlehem taxpayers $ 2.7 million annually.

Second, taxpayers do not have to pay twice for online education.

More than 90% of school districts across the state offer online education programs that employ state-certified teachers. We are proud of the BASD cyber option that we have developed to meet the needs of students who choose online learning and provide a quality program at a lower cost.

Public funding for cyber charter schools should be banned if the student’s home district already has an educational program online whose educational experience is as good or better than that of a charter school.

Finally: the Auditor General should conduct regular inspections to reduce the high risk of enrollment in cyber charter schools and fraud.

Nearly half of the state’s 14 cyber charter schools have never been audited by public auditors, and the state’s largest $ 270 million cyber charter school was last audited ten years ago.

Back in 2018, the CEO of PA Cyber ​​Charter was jailed for the seizure of $ 8 million in public funds. Another audit in Ohio and Indiana revealed even bigger scandals in cyber charter schools totaling millions.

Auditor General Timothy DeFour recently took a step in the wrong direction disbanded the school audit office and should change course by conducting regular cyber chart reviews.

We cannot solve this problem at the local level. The rules for funding statutory schools are set out in state law, and the law hasn’t been updated in 25 years. Join me to tell state lawmakers that their voters want to reform charter school funding.

Joseph Roy is the headmaster of Bethlehem School District.

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