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Pennsylvania state senator says cyber charter schools underperform at the cost of the taxpayer

Sto-Rox superintendent says cyber charter schools cost the district
Sto-Rox superintendent says cyber charter schools cost the district 02:45

MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. (KDKA) -- We've all seen the commercials for cyber charter schools with happy kids posed in front of laptops, independently working in their bedrooms or on the living room floor. But many local school superintendents say it's a financial drain on their budgets with little to no oversight.

A local state senator says Pennsylvania's 13 cyber charter schools consistently underperform, yet at Sto-Rox, the superintendent says she's still spending $8 million of her budget to fund them.

"You see all the advertisements: 'this is free.' Well, it's not free. It's taxpayer dollars and they're underperforming for students," state Sen. Lindsey Williams said.

Everything on campus at Sto-Rox Junior/Senior High School costs money, from transportation to athletics to the window air conditioning units.

"I should not have to come to work every day to figure out what bill I'm going to pay," said Sto-Rox Superintendent Megan Van Fossan.

But by the time she pays her staff salaries, special ed bills and the $8 million to charter and cyber charter schools, Van Fossan needs money.

"There is very,very little left, and I still have to pay the electricity and I still have to pay the heat and I have to fix the small things that break because of normal utilization," Van Fossan said. 

That's why she and many other local superintendents want local leaders to take a good hard look at our state's cyber charter program.
State Sen. Lindsey Williams did just that and will soon introduce a moratorium on any new ones.

"There are plenty of availability of options for parents who want a cyber charter education. We don't need any more right now until we can figure out the funding," Williams said. 

She's upset to learn the application for a new cyber charter school got approved -- the first one in eight years. And she says the application raised serious funding questions.

"The estimated enrollment at year five is about 8,200. If you even took just an average of 10,000, which is pretty low, probably, that's $82 million a year that is then taken out of public schools and we haven't replaced that and we have a commonwealth court decision saying that we have to fully and equitably fund our system of public education."

It's a budgetary hole that Sto-Rox feels every day. Sto-Rox School District currently pays roughly $13,000 per student for 600 students to attend cyber charters.

"What happens is they'll go to cyber school, they won't do the work, the cyber school will kick them out and say 'go register in your home district' and they walk back in and their gap is even bigger," Van Fossan said. 

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