Pennsylvania’s public online charter schools are popular, successful innovations that educate children failed by traditional schools. These schools, known as cyber schools, incorporate modern technology to support teaching and learning. They acknowledge that all students learn differently and extend the benefits of top-notch curriculum and self-paced learning to all students, regardless of their home address. And they educate children for less money than traditional schools. That would seem to be a good thing. But how is the Pennsylvania legislature set to recognize this achievement?
Unbelievably, the march of progress could be retreating due to Senate Bill 1085, which would reduce funding for these public schools.
As a parent with children thriving in the online school environment, I’m troubled. Here’s why:
1) A funding disparity already exists. As it is, the more than 42,000 children educated in Pennsylvania public cyber schools have never had a fair shake when it comes to funding. Pennsylvania cyber students currently receive roughly 30 percent less funding than their neighbors who go to traditional public schools. Now, that gap stands to grow as legislators consider deeper cuts that would short-change cyber school kids by another 8-10 percent.
2) Parents who choose should not be punished. Parents’ tax dollars would be redirected from the public school of their choice, where their child actually is being educated, to another school where the child does not receive services or take classes – a puzzling transfer of funds. But, the result is crystal clear. Public cyber schools will have to consider teacher lay-offs, reductions in student services, and devastating cuts across the board just to stay open.
3) It’s just not fair. No one can ignore the obvious unfairness of this policy proposal. Public school children are public school children, period. Each deserves their share of fair funding. So does each public school.
I was encouraged to discover while in Orlando earlier this month for iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium that Tom Vander Ark has similar concerns. He interprets Pennsylvania’s funding proposal as a step toward marginalizing our online public schools, and he calls for expanding – not minimizing – innovative education opportunities.
After all, underfunding promising innovations hurts real children and real teachers. Blunting online public schools to a shadow of their full potential limits the potential of girls and boys with a broad range of talents, challenges, and backgrounds who find their fit in an exciting new type of public school. That short-changes us all.
Rose Fernandez is a former board member of PublicSchoolOptions.org, serving from 2009 – 2011. Currently, Rose is the Executive Director of the National Parent Network for Online Learning, an organization dedicated to educating the public about the true nature and benefits of K-12 online learning.