Pennsylvania Leadership Cyber School founder and CEO Dr. James Hanak said public school districts have long complained about funding. Hanak said they shouldn’t be because the money is the taxpayers’, not the districts’.
Hanak said superintendents complaining about costs is not a new concept.
“In their minds, charter schools take away students and money. They don’t like the fact a parent would choose a charter school over the district,” he said. “It’s sort of an embarrassment, and admission for at least that one student that the home school district is not working for that student for whatever the reason. The money follows the student. So why are parents rushing to charter schools? Because we are doing a better job.”
Hanak said the money is spent how the taxpayer wants.
“It doesn’t cost the family any money because the school districts have already taken their money,” he said. “The real question is who does the money belong to? The school or the taxpayer? It makes sense they should be able to use the money where they want.”
“The reason is that we are getting students a year and a half behind on their studies and we only have 6 months to catch up,” he said. “Cyber charter schools are held to exact same standards as public schools.”
Hanak also said the increase of cyber school students statewide from 36,000 to 62,000 in the last five years was due to the fact that many districts closed their doors during the pandemic and quickly shifted to remote learning during the end of the 2019-20 school year.
“Many parents decided they did not want their children to participate in school districts’ programs but a school that specializes in certain programs,” he said. “It was a mad rush and I don’t blame the school districts, they only had two weeks to prepare and we have been doing it for 20 years.”
Superintendents Jason Bendle, of Shikellamy, Dave Campbell, of Line Mountain, and Cathy Keegan, of Milton, said they would like to sit and talk with Hanak anytime.
“At Line Mountain we are not embarrassed, we are, more often than not concerned students making this choice will slip through the cracks. Enrollment last year was up exponentially because some parents didn’t want COVID-19 exposure risks and many more because masks were required,” Campbell said.
“As a leader during these very difficult times economically, I would be more embarrassed taking advantage of taxpayers as a result of variables public schools had no control over. Especially when taking into account in a public school when a budget is passed no matter how many new students enroll throughout the year our budget stays the same.”
Keegan said her district agrees with Campbell.
“We are not embarrassed by students leaving our school district for successful learning opportunities,” she said. “The concern lies with the unfair funding formula and lack of accountability for cyber charter schools. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you pay high tuition rates to failing educational organizations, especially ones who advertise that their education is free. The truth of the matter, taxpayers are paying for students to attend schools that are not in their school district.”
Bendle agreed with his fellow superintendents.
“We are not embarrassed,” he said. We want every student to receive a high-quality education. Maybe some cyber schools could provide this, but many times students return from cyber placements well behind where they left us. To Shikellamy their child is more to us than a number.”
Hanak said there are 180 charter schools currently with about 62,000 current students statewide.
“Seeing where we will be in the next five years is a hard question to answer,” he said. “But I see continued interest in cyber charter schools and now, everyone has experienced a cyber environment and word is getting around we know what we are doing. and more and more parents are seeing this.”
Hanak said students move to an online cyber charter school because of a disagreement with some part of their brick-and-mortar learning.
“If a student is choosing to leave a brick and mortar school then there is a reason,” he said. “Something that went wrong that caused that student to move from that district.”