Lancer Letter: McLane launches cyber charter alternative

Categories:  News    Opinions
Friday, September 13th, 2019 at 11:25 AM
Lancer Letter: McLane launches cyber charter alternative by Richard Scaletta | General McLane School District Superintendent

You may have noticed in the news last week that Governor Wolf was in town to promote his charter school reforms. His belief that Pennsylvania’s 1997 Charter School Law is outdated is not an opinion, it is fact. When that law was conceived, cyber schools did not exist, so the application of the law to these online services was not part of the original plan. When Jack Wagner was auditor general, he twice outlined why Pennsylvania’s charter school law was “the worst in the country.”

The formula used to take district dollars for these charters includes the costs we pay to maintain “brick and mortars,” as well as some services charters do not offer. So, the cyber charters have enough money leftover to accumulate large fund balances, pay for advertising, and provide huge profit for their parent companies (which provide the online content as a for-profit entity). One of the problems here is that these for-profit companies are bringing in gobs of taxpayer money but are not subject to Right to Know laws; therefore, taxpayers cannot know the full story. The governor wants to change this.

Year after year, Stanford University has published the CREDO report, which has tracked the lack of success of cyber schooling for K-12 students. Recent analysis by their researchers found that “students lose an academic year in math and reading for every year they spend in cyber school.” Multiple other studies show they have failed students who do not make academic progress. Using the state’s own rating system, General McLane schools outscore cyber charters anywhere from 35 to 50 points. Yet, our taxpayers had to pay those under-performing schools $500,000 last year!

We recently did an analysis of the past five years of our big picture finances. During that time, the additional mils of taxes levied brought us $700,000. Increases from state education funding to us brought in $701,000. So, essentially, our revenue increase over that period was $1.4 million.

During that same period, we paid over $2 million to cyber charter schools! When you factor in the payments to the pension fund and normal course of doing business (salaries, maintenance, utilities, etc.), you can see why we are going to drain our reserves and be insolvent.
This year, after fighting it as long as I could, we are implementing our own cyber school to try to get back some of the $500,000 we are losing each year. Like 65 other districts in Pennsylvania, we are working with Virtual Learning Network (VLN) Partners. What a cyber charter does poorly for $11,000 a student, they will do much better for us at $3,500. That price disparity should speak volumes. We will pay $19,000 for a special needs student in cyber charter, but still only the $3,500 with VLN.

We recently invited parents sending their children to cyber charters to a meeting about our new program. Parents representing seven students currently in, or considering cyber chartering attended and were very impressed with the VLN program. The degree of accountability and support students will be provided in our program is far and above the cyber charters. Districts using VLN have told us that some students left PA Cyber Charter to do VLN, but they went back to PA Cyber Charter because it was less work! That should also speak volumes.
Our program will also offer a “blended approach.” That means the students enrolled may take a mixture of cyber classes and classes on campus. Students enrolled in Cyber Charters are no longer one of our students. In our cyber program, they remain our student, thus we call the program, Lancers Online.

As I mentioned earlier, behind every cyber charter school is a for-profit company that provides the online curriculum. They are able to hide behind these “free public schools” and make huge profit. They also make large, six-digit contributions to key politicians. Thus, despite abysmal performance, the legislative leadership has thwarted any true reform and allowed only a few bills they call “reform” to be passed. These bills do little to rein in costs or provide transparency and accountability for these schools. There is a lot of money at play here, so it will be difficult to get these reforms in place. Taxpayers need to be heard!

It will take legislation to get the accountability needed to reign in these costs. Let the legislative leadership know you are in favor of the governor’s charter school reforms:

Senate President Pro Tem: Jake Scarnatti, jscarnati@pasen.gov

Senate Floor Leader: Jake Corman, jcorman@pasen.gov House Speaker: Mike Turzai, mturzai@pahousegop.com

Majority Whip: Bryan Cutler, bcutler@pahousegop.com

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