Peter Greene writes here about the possibility that legislators might attempt to limit the damage done by the cyber charter industry, which is protected by armor of cash and campaign contributions.

Numerous studies, including one by the charter-friendly CREDO of Stanford, have found that students in cyber charters don’t learn much. Some studies have shown that cyber charters don’t learn anything.

But the industry is immensely profitable, because the cyber charters get paid full state tuition and provide almost nothing, unlike a brick and mortar school that must provide heat, electricity, a custodian, a library, transportation, etc. Cyber charters make all those things unnecessary, but at the same time that provide as meager an education as is possible.

Greene writes:

Rep. Curt Sonney is a GOP top dog in the Pennsylvania Education Committee, and he’s never been known as a close friend of public schools. But he represents Erie, a district that has been absolutely gutted by school choice, so maybe that’s why he has spent the last couple of years nipping at the heels of Pennsylvania’s thriving cyber charter industry.

Harrisburg just had hearings on his latest proposal, a bill that he first announced last October and which has something for virtually everyone to hate.

Pennsylvania cyber schools are an absolute mess, barely covered by laws that never anticipated such a thing and protected by a massive pile of money thrown both at lobbying and campaign contributions.

The cybers do offer a service that is useful for some students (I personally know of one such case). But they also provide a quick exit for parents who don’t want to deal with truancy issues or other disciplinary problems. Their results are generally very poor (none have ever been ranked proficient on the Big Standardized Test), and state oversight is so lousy that many were allowed to continue operating for years without ever having renewed their charters.

But what really has drawn the wrath of even people who don’t pay much attention to education policy is that they are expensive as hell. Because the charter laws didn’t really anticipate this cyber-development, cyber-charters are paid at the same rate as a brick-and-mortar charter. So an individual student may bring in $10-$20K, but costs the cyber charter the price of one computer, one printer, and 1/250th of an on-line teacher. The profit margin is huge, but so is the cost to local districts, with poorer districts in the state being hit the worst.

A year ago, there was a bill floating around Harrisburg to change the game– if a local district opened a cyber-school, then any families that wanted to send their kid to an out-of-district cyberwould have to foot the bill themselves.

The bill (HB 1897) is a bit involved, and we’ll go digging in a moment, but the two headline items are this: all cyber-charters will be shut down, and all school districts will offer cyber education. Now, to look for some of those devilish details.

Betsy DeVos is a huge fan of cyber charters and has even invested in them.

Be that as it may, they are a financial success and an education failure.