03/28/19: Board supports proposed cyber charter school legislation

By Gary Weckselblatt

The Quakertown Community School Board passed a resolution at its March 28, 2019 meeting in support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526. Those pieces of the legislation, currently being considered in the General Assembly, help districts that provide their own high-performing cyber education programs by removing the financial responsibility for resident students who enroll in cyber charter schools instead of the districts' programs.

The vote was 7-1. Director Jon Kerns was the lone no vote. Board Member Keith Micucci was absent.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner has written about the importance of having this legislation become law. Here's why:

QCSD sends $1.92 million a year to cyber charter schools. While it costs the district $2,000 to educate a cyber student, it pays $14,500 for a regular education student to attend a cyber charter school; $30,000 for a special education student.

Dr. Harner told the Board that 25 percent of regular education students become special education students in cyber charters, more than doubling the payment to the institutions. Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526 would have parents pay those costs if the home district has a quality cyber education program, which QCSD does.

"This legislation states if your school district offers a cyber program equal in quality, then the parents have to bear those costs," Board Member Ron Jackson said. "There's a high probability that the charter schools are inflating the needs of students in order to get additional funding out of the districts. As a School Board Member, my job here is to advocate for the school district. ... If (this law) is going to save us $1.92 million, as Dr. Harner said, then as far as I'm concerned, I'm all for it."

Mr. Kerns, who voted against the resolution, said districts "don't want any competition. I think competition makes us stronger, sharper and better."

During the discussion, Director Kaylyn Mitchell said cyber charters and school districts don't have "equal accountability," when it comes to student performance, and Dr. Harner added "There's not one cyber charter school that has a proficient rating in the state."

Mr. Kerns said legislation is not needed as public school districts can win the battle for students against cyber charter schools on their own merit. "We can win cause we're damn good at it," he said.

In its 2018 school district profile of Quakertown, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association showed that while 7.8 percent of students, on average, attend charter school in the state, only 2.6 percent of QCSD students choose to attend a charter school.

Two parents in the audience supported the Board for passing the resolution.

Chris Spear of Milford said "Charters exist in areas where school districts fail the population in which they serve. We need to work hard to strengthen our schools so that the budget draining that the charters bring with them doesn't come here."

Another parent, Stephanie Zajkowski of Richland, said she's a proponent of cyber learning. However, the funding formula "is broken," she said, adding that former Auditor General Jack Wagner and current AG Eugene DePasquale have called on legislators to fix the funding formula.

"Why do they do so much marketing in this state?," she asked. "Pennsylvania's funding formula is the most attractive. I'm very happy that you passed that resolution."

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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