I recommend that you get on the email list of the Keystone State Education Coalition if you want to know what is happening in Pennsylvania. Lawrence Feinberg posts informative articles about the schools of that state. You can contact him at lawrenceafeinberg@gmail.com.

One ongoing scandal in Pennsylvania is the story of cyber charters. Pennsylvania has 14 cyber charter schools, and 13 of them are on the state’s list of the lowest performing schools in the state. Cyber charters have low graduation rates, high attrition, and low scores. While Pennsylvania has many underfunded districts, the state is very generous with its failing cyber charters. From the years 2013-2016–four years–the state paid $1.6 Billion to these “schools.” In 2016 alone, the state handed out $454.7 million to cyber charters. All of that money is extracted from the budgets of public schools because the money follows the student, from good public schools to low-performing cyber charters. Most cyber charters are operated for profit. And they are very profitable! But not for their students.

Understand that the cyber charters receive full tuition for every student they enroll, even though they have none of the expenses of brick-and-mortar schools. No maintenance of grounds, no heating or cooling, no nurses, no library, no gym, no lunch room, no meals, etc. Yet they collect the same tuition as real schools. Their owners are rolling in dough. The creator of the first cyber charter, The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, is  now in prison, after having been convicted of tax evasion on $8 million that he diverted from the school. Think of it. Ten thousand students were enrolled, bringing in tuition of $10,000-11,000 (more if they were special education) each. That is a minimum of $100 million to run a online program that offers nothing but computers, textbooks, and online lessons. What a profitable business! Trombetta was not convicted of theft or embezzlement, but of tax evasion. Curious.

There is one hopeful piece of legislation under consideration. Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526 would end public school district payments to cyber charters if the school district offered online schooling for free. The State College District supports these bills because it is currently paying $14,000 for each student in its district who enrolls in a cyber charter and $29,000 per year for each student with special needs. The irony is that the cyber charter does nothing additional for students with special needs and is not required to spend the additional money it receives on them.

School districts across the state are facing higher taxes and underfunded schools, while the failing cyber charters are flooded with cash. Will the Republican-dominated legislature take action to save public schools or will they devote their time to adding new money to the state’s charters and its voucher program?