Debunking Myths: The Truth About Public Cyber Charter Schools

Letter to the EditorPhoto by Pixabay on

EDITOR: When lawmakers communicate with their constituents and the general public, there is an expectation that what they say is truthful and reflects reality; however, state Rep. Joe Ciresi’s May 30 column, You’re Paying For It – You Deserve to Know Where Your Money Goes, does the complete opposite.

While Rep. Ciresi is free to oppose and advocate against public cyber charter schools and the 60,000 students they educate and their families, he cannot be allowed to sway public opinion through misstatements and false information.

Contrary to Rep. Ciresi’s assertions, as public schools, cyber charter schools, by law, cannot refuse to enroll any student who wants to enroll. Enrolling in public cyber charter schools is open to all students, regardless of their academic or personal circumstances. In fact, public cyber charter schools serve all students, including those with disabilities, behavior issues, and those who struggle academically because of the failures of their local school district.

It’s interesting that Rep. Ciresi stated that public cyber charter schools don’t serve students with disabilities because those who oppose cyber schools on the one hand, claim that these schools don’t serve students with special needs, but on the other hand, they claim that cyber schools over identify students with disabilities “to get more money.” You cannot have it both ways.

Rep. Ciresi’s argument about cyber schools burdening property taxpayers is fundamentally false.

As of the 2022-23 school year, Pennsylvania’s 499 school districts spent nearly $36 billion, of which $1.06 billion (3%) was for cyber schools.

In comparison, school districts spent $15.4 billion (43.1%) on their top three cost drivers: benefits – $8.7 billion (24.2%); pensions – $4.6 billion (12.7%), debt service – $2.2 billion (6.2%), while sitting on more than $6.8 billion (19% of total spending) in general fund reserves.

Let’s dig a little deeper. The amount school districts pay for students of tax-paying families to attend public cyber charter schools increased $11 million from 2022 to 2023; however, the amount of real estate taxes districts collected for the same period increased $363 million – 33 times more than the increase in cyber costs.

If school districts were struggling because of cyber students, then their general fund reserves would not have increased by $818 million (13.7%) last school year, or $2.2 billion (48%) over the last five years.

Although Rep. Ciresi promotes his legislation, House Bill 1422, as a measure that provides transparency and accountability for cyber schools, he avoids mentioning that his bill would result in a nearly 50% cut in funding to 60,000 public school students, including students with disabilities, and require cyber schools to follow the same rules that apply to school districts, which they already do because current state laws also apply to cyber schools.

As previously stated, Rep. Ciresi is entitled to his own opinion, but the public expects their elected officials to be honest and tell the truth.

It appears that Rep. Ciresi is intentionally hiding the truth that his legislation would eliminate public cyber charter schools and take away the very schools that save taxpayer dollars and benefit students and families who have been ill-served by traditional public schools.

— Reese Flurie, Board President, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools

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