A recent op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raised the issue of charter school funding. We always appreciate attention and discussion on charter schools. However, we think their position missed some key points. There are three areas we’d like to address from our experience serving students.
1. Transparency. The editorial implies that the process is opaque, with money being paid in and unaccounted for. PA Distance is annually audited by an independent firm. Our annual budget and the independent audit are made public and available to our families and members of the community.
2. Oversight. The op-ed states, “Charter schools, though publicly funded, are privately managed. Brick-and-mortar schools have to get a charter from a local school board, but cyber schools are approved by the state and have no oversight from local elected officials.”
In reality, charter schools receive more oversight than traditional schools. In addition to our Board of Trustees, comprised of community leaders, Pennsylvania charter schools are accountable to the PA Department of Education, the PA Department of Health, their charter authorizer, the Department of Treasury, special education monitoring, civil rights reporting, the Auditor General, and, perhaps most significantly, direct and transparent accountability to the individual students and families who have chosen to attend public charter schools.
3. Value. The editorial calls into question the fiscal responsibility of cyber schools. Central to their calculation is that district programs report that they can provide distance learning services for only $5,000 per student. However, administrators of these programs have acknowledged that they collaborate and share costs with other districts. The comprehensive costs that the school districts cover for programs are not included in the $5,000 number they point to. In contrast, the math bears out what a good investment cyber charter schools are.
PA Distance Learning, along with all of Pennsylvania’s public cyber charter schools, receive an average of $2,653 less per student than the public school districts we support. We work with less to provide more. Public cyber charter schools offer a customized education to students whose needs are not being met by traditional schools. Our work is fiscally sound and the impact in the lives of students is invaluable.