Governor Wolf’s proposed 2015-16 state budget, unveiled last week, proposes to reform cyber charter school funding so that it reflects their actual costs, freeing up an estimated $160 million more for classroom funding.
Cyber charters do not have the same basic costs as other public schools, such as building facilities. The governor’s funding reform would cap public funding at reasonable levels: at the highest cost levels of “comparable, high-performing online education programs offered by Intermediate Units” plus 10% more for any additional administrative costs.
Beyond basic cost differences, there are major outcome gaps that call for cyber charter funding reform. In 2013-14, cyber charters cost school districts $421 million, and yet they produced significantly worse results on School Performance Profiles (SPP) than all other public schools, according to the educational research group Research for Action (RFA).
Figure 1: Research for Action Analysis
Although SPP scores are based on standardized test scores, which are shown to be highly associated with student poverty, RFA found that even the poorest of all other public schools do better than cyber charters. The cyber charter student poverty rate of 48% is not that much higher than the 44% poverty rate of all traditional public schools.
Public funding of any program should rest on transparency and accountability. The public needs to know that their tax money is being invested in programs that work well. When funding reform improves the educational power of every public dollar spent, public school students and our state benefit.