Another one on district cyber schools

Western Pa. districts aim to win back students from cyber charters (from TribLive News)

By Megan Harris

As scores of students flee traditional classrooms for the comfort of their keyboards at cyber charter schools, Western Pennsylvania school districts are building cyber academies in an attempt to keep those pupils and the tuition they’d otherwise take with them.

In Pennsylvania, cyber schools get 80 percent of the state funding a public school would receive for a student, usually several thousand dollars per student. The student’s home district keeps 20 percent with no obligation to educate the child.

Online programs began this year in Karns City, Avonworth and Franklin Regional, and cyber academies at Fox Chapel and Gateway expanded. Other districts, including Norwin, West Allegheny, Blairsville-Saltsburg, North Hills and Baldwin-Whitehall, have led successful programs for years.

The growth of cyber charters has been costly for brick-and-mortar schools.

This year, 14 cyber charters in Pennsylvania taught 36,596 students — up from just one with 155 students in 2002.

Pittsburgh Public lost hundreds of students and an estimated $42 million in state funding to cybers from 2008 to 2012, the year the district began its online academy for grades 4-12.

Pittsburgh was losing 557 students to outside cyber charters in 2008, and that number steadily grew to 829 in 2012.

Projections at the time showed the district would pay cyber charters who enroll Pittsburgh students $11.4 million in 2016-17, up from $232,200 in 2000-01.

Since the in-house program began, about 126 students have come back, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said.

“We specifically targeted kids who opted out of the district for other online programs,” she said. “They’re Pittsburgh students, so they weren’t just losing out on extracurriculars. Our online academy is the only cyber school still eligible for free college tuition through the Pittsburgh Promise” scholarship program.

West Mifflin Cyber Academy took on 31 full-time online students when it started in 2010, about the same number as those who opted out of the district the two years prior. Enrollment at the in-house cyber academy grew to 63 students last year, representing more than $610,000 that stayed in the district.

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