Pa. denies all applications for cyber-charter schools in 2014

    There will be no new cyber-charter schools opening this year in Pennsylvania.

    The state Department of Education rejected proposals from each of the six operators that applied last November.

    The state’s 14 existing cyber-charter schools – which educate students via computers in students’ homes – have thus far produced dismal academic results for their 35,000 students statewide.

    Judging by the state’s new school performance profile scores, the 11 cyber-charters for which information is available scored well below state averages.

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    Pennsylvania’s cyber-charters have also drawn criticism from academics and the state auditor general regarding their use of public funds.

    After hearing testimony from the six new organizations hoping to create cyber-charters, education department officials said in December they would review their applications with “a laser focus” while “increasing the rigor of the review process.”

    Last week, without any fanfare, the state sent rejection letters to the six cyber-charter hopefuls:

    HOPE Leadership Cyber Charter of Philadelphia
    Insight PA Cyber Charter of Philadelphia
    Acclaim Cyber Charter School of Worthville
    Synergy Cyber Charter of Oakmont
    Provost Academy Cyber Charter School of Cranberry Township
    iSEEK Academy Cyber Charter School of Yardley

    Each of the rejection letters noted application deficiencies in the following areas:

    application requirements
    sustainable support
    use of physical facilities
    special education
    English as a second language
    assessment and accountability/school improvement
    professional development/teacher induction

    Education Law Center senior attorney David Lapp testified against all of the new applicants at the November hearings in Harrisburg.

    “The model that we’ve seen enacted under our charter law is not proving to be very effective for students,” Lapp said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

    Lapp praised the department’s decisions, but said the state must do more to ensure that the existing cyber-charters are held to a high standard.

    “There’s no question that the Internet and use of technology is going to [have] an expanding role in what we do in public education,” he said. “But we do think that the department and our state laws need to be changed to empower the department to do more as far as oversight is concerned with the existing programs we have.”

    Robert Fayfich of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools sent the following reaction to the department’s decision:

    “PDE is setting a higher bar for applicants by establishing fair, consistent, and high-quality standards and holding applicants to them. In our opinion, that is the only way to create consistently high-quality charter schools. This decision to deny all six applications does not impact the ability of parents to choose among the … existing cyber-charter schools to find the best educational fit for the needs of their children.”

    Last year, eight prospective cyber schools applied for charters; all were denied by the department.

    Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber-charters cost $366.6 million statewide; $49.2 million of that comes from the Philadelphia School District.

    Lapp said the decision should send state lawmakers “back to the drawing board” in order to avoid continuing to “simply experiment with ways that we know aren’t working.”

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