MILTON — Superintendents representing 15 school districts in the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) region have joined together in an effort to raise awareness of two pending bills which focus on cyber and charter school reform.
In upper Northumberland County, Milton Area School District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Keegan and Warrior Run School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Hack are both working to raise awareness of House Bill 526 and Senate Bill 34.
According to a release issued by the 15 superintendents, the bill would require parents to pay for their child’s education in a cyber school if the school district of residence offers its own full-time cyber education program.
Currently, school districts must pay the tuition of students that attend outside cyber charter schools.
The superintendents are urging residents to contact their legislators in order to get the bills onto the Senate and House floors for votes.
Both Milton and Warrior Run operate their own cyber schools.
During the first semester of the 2019-2020 school year, Hack said 34 students who live within the Warrior Run School District were enrolled in a cyber charter schools outside of the district’s own school.
“The cost for a regular education student to attend an outside cyber-charter school is approximately $10,000, while the cost is $20,000 for a special education student,” Hack said. “The district spends upwards of $500,000 annually on students attending outside cyber charter schools.”
Currently, Keegan said 29 students who live within the Milton Area School District are enrolled in cyber charter schools outside of the one offered by Milton.
“The district budgeted $357,275 for the 2019-2020 school year,” Keegan said. “The district budget for this area has maintained steady because of our efforts to keep outside cyber students at Milton in our Milton cyber school.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, Keegan said Milton realized $531,700 in savings by operating its own cyber school. Over a five-year period, the district realized $1.9 million in savings.
At Warrior Run, Hack said the district saves about $8,000 per student when one opts to attend Warrior Run’s cyber school, as opposed to an outside school.
“The Warrior Run cyber program offers a variety of core and elective courses to our students, many of which are offered in our schools and others that are not,” Hack said. “The flexibility of our program is designed to meet the individual needs and circumstances of both full-time and part-time cyber students.”
Hack said the Warrior Run district could immediately recognize up to $400,000 in savings if all of the students living within the district would switch from attending to an outside cyber school to the district’s.
“While as a district, we support the concept of flexible and blended options for students, we believe that we have the ability to educate our cyber students with greater success than most outside cyber charter schools,” Hack said.
“We have the ability to monitor student progress and provide supports to struggling students in an effort to ensure that they do not fall behind in their work,” he added.
By operating its own cyber school, Keegan said Milton is able to create programs which are individualized for each child.
“We allow for a blended model that permits students to do anything from taking one online course, while attending the building, to being a full-time cyber student,” she said. “In addition, students are being monitored and supported by Milton staff and will earn a Milton diploma after meeting the same graduation requirements as any other Milton student.”
Both Hack and Keegan noted that due to recent changes in legislation, school districts are no longer required to track and address truancy issues experienced by cyber charter school students.
“Now that the burden is placed on cyber schools, we are noticing more students bouncing from one cyber school to another with little to no accountability for attendance,” Hack said.
Due to the lack of accountability on behalf of the students, Hack said those who opt to return to Warrior Run for an education are often credit deficient or a grade-level behind.
“As a result, they are at an increased risk for dropping out,” he added.
Keegan said it’s important for parents to realize the ramifications if the bills are ultimately passed.
“If they choose to enroll their child in a charter school, they are obligated to pay the tuition cost,” she said. “Charter school tuition is now the biggest budget pressure on school districts.”
Keegan said the Milton district believes in “fair and equitable school funding for all public school children.”
“We support any legislation that requires all schools to meet the same standards and rigor for all public schools,” she said.
Hack believes House Bill 526 appears to be the “most fair and sensible” bill for students, school districts and taxpayers.
“I am supportive of this legislation and believe, if passed, the students enrolled in outside cyber charter schools would see an increase in their academic success,” he said.
In addition, Keegan said school districts would recognize budgetary savings.
“The benefit of this legislation is that it will allow the Milton Area School District to use the additional $357,000 in taxpayer dollars that are leaving the district for outside cyber schools,” Keegan said.
“We know that we can assimilate those students into any of our educational options programming with little increase in cost, meet their needs and realize additional budget savings for the district.”