Peter Greene reports a shocking development (for operators of cyber-charters): Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said that he wants to reduce payments to cyber-charters, the online charter schools that are usually offered by for-profit corporations. Cyber-charters receive full state tuition for every student they enroll, and every dollar is subtracted from funding of local district schools that the student otherwise would have attended. Numerous studies have shown that the virtual schools have high attrition (as much as 50% a year), low test scores, and low graduation rates. But they are very profitable.
This is actually a shocking development for critics of virtual charters because their usual modus operandi is to sprinkle campaign contributions to key legislators and the governor, thus protecting their cash cow.
Pennsylvania cyber charters are Very Sad, because the new governor of the state is threatening to end their long-standing party.
Years ago, a local departing superintendent offered a few words of advice. “If you want to get rich,” he said, “go start a cyber school.” He was not kidding. For the past decade-plus, running a Pennsylvania cyber charter has been as good as printing money. Despite their abysmal record of academic failure, Pennsylvania cybers rake in money hand over fist.
There’s no big secret to it– a cyber is paid the full per-capita home district cost of every student it enrolls. If it costs East Bucksawanna $10,500 per child to provide buildings and maintenance and infrastructure and resources and teachers and books and all the rest, then the Gotrox Cyber Acdemy gets that same $10,500, with which it provides the student with a computer (free!!) and access to a teacher or two (each of whom is carrying several hundreds of students).
It’s like running a dealership where every customer will pay the purchase price of their last brand new luxury automobile and in return, all you have to give them is some object with wheels.
This has been a point of contention in PA because every cent that goes into cyber coffers comes straight out of public school tax dollars. Every student that a cyber enrolls is a budget cut for public schools, and the cuts are vicious and deep and resulting in loss of programs, closing of schools, and furloughs of teachers. Taxpayers are complaining to public schools, “What the hell did you do with all that money I gave you,” and public schools reply, “That guy right over there [pointing at cyber charter] took it, and that guy right over there [pointing at legislator] says I have to let it happen.” People are getting pissed off. The baloney about how the money follows the child isn’t convincing, because people are now seeing that the child not only takes his own family’s money, but the tax dollars from all the neighbors on his street, too.
Cyber charters in PA have created whole new traditions. For instance, a cyber school may test a student to determine if the student has special needs. Why would they care? Perhaps because they get roughly $10K for regular students and $25K for students with special needs.
There’s also the tradition of enrollment day, on which guidance counselors and cyber schoolsters sit at their computers and toss students back and forth like hot potatoes on a reverse e-bay. Why? Well, there are two magic dates on the cyber calendar. After one certain date, the school gets to keep the money even if the kid leaves the cyber. After enrollment day, whoever still has the kid has to count that students test scores as their own.
Anyway. Governor Wolf has raised a fun question– how much does it actually cost to educate a cyber-student? Because shouldn’t it cost, you know, less? And if so, why should taxpayers pay more? No other public school (because, like all charters, cybers insist on calling themselves public schools) sets a budget that includes an extra couple of million just to feather the nest.
Just as a footnote, two operators of virtual charters are currently under indictment for the misappropriation of millions of dollars. Not like a principal or an assistant principal stealing petty cash. Big-time money. Millions.
The largest chain of virtual charters is K12, Inc. It was created by Michael Milken, noted non-educator, and his brother Lowell, also a non-educator. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.