PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts

Part 96 of 96 in the series Educating America

CHARTERS: Cyber charter schools could be funded by state instead of school districts.

By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — Instead of relying on payments from each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, one state lawmaker says cyber charter schools should be funded directly by the state.

State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, says he wants to simplify the process of funding the state’s 16 cyber charter schools, which accept students from all corners of Pennsylvania, regardless of school district.

While the General Assembly is still haggling over a variety of changes to the laws governing charter schools, Christiana has introduced House Bill 2174 as a stand-alone measure to fund cyber schools out of the state budget.

As the law stands, if a student from one of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts opts to learn through the online program of a cyber charter, the student’s district is responsible for the per-pupil cost. The district is eligible to take deductions depending on fixed expenditures for their school system.

“Reimbursement works for brick-and-mortar, but not for cyber charter schools,” said Christiana.

Unlike brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber charter schools can teach students from across the commonwealth without limiting them to a home district. The schools are authorized at the state level rather than by local school districts.

According to Christiana, cyber charter schools essentially encompass a statewide district.

This potentially creates 500 separate funding formulas for the about 32,000 children in cyber charter schools.

“The General Assembly has a choice. We can tinker with a broken funding mechanism or establish a long-term solution,” said Christiana.

The first step is to assign the state Department of Education to make payments to cyber charter schools. The second step is determining the adequate appropriation for that.

Based on the language of HB 2174, an insufficient appropriation could kill the cyber charter sector, said Jim Hanak, CEO of PA Leadership Charter School.

“Any legislature antagonistic to cyber charter schools could overnight destroy this class of schools by simply underfunding them or completely defunding them,” said Hanak.

But Christiana supports choices in education for parents and students.

“My bill is not meant to increase or cut cyber education,” said Christiana.

The move was referred to the House Education Committee last week.

Contact Maura Pennington at and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.