By Maurice Flurie, Joanne Barnett and
As educators of schools that teach more than 36,000 students, we welcome reforming Pennsylvania's charter school law.
We are, however, extremely disappointed that the needs of students and opinions of parents are seemingly being ignored in the current political debate.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has increased its oversight of public cyber charter schools over the past three years.
The accountability measures of House Bill 530, recently passed in the House and currently residing in the Senate, will only improve those efforts. These changes are welcomed by the CEOs of all 14 public cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.
As additional accountability measures are discussed, it is important for taxpayers and lawmakers to remember that charter and cyber charter schools serve a critical role in the educational landscape of Pennsylvania.
For many families, these schools of choice are the only avenue for an acceptable public education.
Cyber charter schools are "schools that teach," and 10s of thousands of parents want us to teach their children.
These students attended traditional public schools and it did not work for them. The data shows the largest concentration of students who attend public cyber charter schools are in grades nine through 12 and frequently arrive performing well below grade level.
However, academics are not the only reason a parent chooses a cyber charter education
Many times, parents choose public cyber charter schools because their student is being bullied, or because they may have a specific medical need that prevents the student from succeeding in a traditional classroom.
Either way, it is clear that parents do not choose to enroll their student at a public cyber charter school because something is right at their traditional school, but rather because something is wrong.
It would be wrong to take that choice away from a parent or force them back into an option that previously did not work for their student's unique needs.
The strengths in public cyber charter schools reside in students' "academic growth" and graduation rates. This is due to intense remediation and support mechanisms put in place after assessments are taken shortly after enrollment.
Public cyber charter schools are very open and transparent about their fiscal operations and must file annual reports and audits, just like traditional schools. On average, public cyber charter schools spend just 1.5 percent of their total budget on statewide marketing and any advocacy efforts.
This is a mere fraction of the amount used to support the lobbying efforts of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which draws dues directly from teachers' taxpayer-funded salaries to influence election efforts and policy decisions.
In 2014, PSEA spent a reported $3.6 million in political activities and lobbying, with additional spending of a reported $2.7 million from their Political Action Committee (PSEAPACE). That equates to $6.3 million in 2014 political spending alone.
Additionally, it is clear that the state funding formula needs to be addressed across the board – this includes traditional schools, as well as public charter and cyber charter schools.
The funding commission that would be created under House Bill 530 is welcomed by the public cyber charter school community. However, we do not support the arbitrary cuts in Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget nor its comparison to online programs offered by Intermediate Units.
Charter school reform is long overdue. That is why we remain hopeful that many of the provisions of legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Reese, R-Somerset, will lead to necessary updates to the Charter School Law to provide for increased transparency and accountability measures. Such accountability, we might add, is not and has never been discussed for traditional public schools and it should be.
Public cyber charter schools are "schools that teach," and tens of thousands of parents want us to continue teaching their children.
Maurice Flurie is the CEO of Commonwealth Connections Academy
Dr. Joanne Barnett is the CEO of PA Virtual Charter School
Patricia Rossetti is the CEO of PA Distance Learning Charter School.