As I mentioned on yesterday, I was going to draft an original entry this week and then dissect it through the lens of the Week 5 Activity criteria for the 10 Weeks of Activities for Better Blogging. Two hours after this entry is posted, I will post a copy of it with a commentary about how the entry came about.
I first save this entry back in August 2010, I suspect after I came across an article entitled Pa. Districts Pay for Growing Use of Cyber Schools (which interestingly was originally titled “Cost of Cyber Charter Schools Going Up as Popularity Increases”). The article looked at the issue of how the funding for cyber charter schools (and to a lesser extent charter schools in general) costs the schools who were losing the students. The basic premise, one that I have made before, was that if a school lost 30 students it represented roughly one full class or 30 x FTE. The problem is that those 30 students don’t all come from the same class so the school can’t simply cut one section of everything. Often a lose of 30 students means that the school loses 3 kindergarten students, 5 grade one students, 4 grade two students, 1 grade three student, and so on… What that means is that the school still has to run the same number of classes of kindergarten, grade one, grade two, grade three, and so on; but with less funding. The result of that is cuts! Cuts to the services provided to these students! Cuts to the co-curriular and extra-curricular activities that can be funded! Simply put, it means that students who remain at that school are disadvantaged because their fellow students chose to attend the cyber charter school.
Six or eight now later, the Erie Times-News took a more in depth look at this issue and examined how this uneven lose of students affected a single school district in Times In-Depth: A look at funding for online charter schools. What I find interesting about the article is that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School chief executive (note that it is not called a principal), Nick Trombetta, is quoted as saying “This year we borrowed $21 million to operate, and we’ll be lucky to be balanced at the end of the year,” Trombetta said. “We aren’t a moneymaking machine.” I find this interesting because the school’s own Wikipedia entry reports that “In 2010, the school reported an Unreserved – Undesignated Fund balance of $2,406,089 and a Reserved – Undesignated Fund balance of $11,415,257.” This is money that was collected based on student FTEs, but not spent on actually providing an education for those students. Further, only a year later we get all kinds of news about the FBI having raided the offices of this cyber charter school and Mr. Trombetta “suspected of misusing Pennsylvania tax dollars to fund his out-of-state ventures.” But its not a moneymaking machine… :)
The bottom line here, as it is in every jurisdiction, is that it costs less to educate a student full-time online than it does in the face-to-face classroom. Where does that extra money go? Well, some of it goes into that glitzy advertising that you see all over the place trying to attract more and more students to the cyber charter school. But a lot of that money goes into the pockets of the for-profit companies that are behind most of these cyber charter schools. When efforts are made to try and limit the funding provided to full-time cyber charter schools, some of that money even goes to fighting against such measures.
In the end, it is the students that lose out. The students attending the cyber charter schools are being robbed of whatever opportunities an extra 30% funding would provide to them. The students who are left in the brick-and-mortar schools are robbed through the cuts I described above. Who wins in this situation? Well, the robbers of course! Those for-profit companies that are pillaging public education to line the pockets of corporate executives and corporate shareholders. The funny thing is not only do Americans continue to allow this to happen, but most states are moving to expand the ability for the robbers to profit.
In light of the Trombetta investigation, it appears that the issue of the funding provided to cyber charter schools is again on the agenda. Maybe Pennsylvania will begin to take steps to limit the robber’s ability (as I know they won’t stop the theft from occurring in the first place).
Note that one of the best academic considerations of this issue in the State of Pennsylvania continues to be:
Carr-Chellman, A. A., & Marsh, R. M. (2009). Pennsylvania cyber school funding: Follow the money. TechTrends, 53(4), 49-55.