Cyber Education Grows in Districts, Lowers Enrollment at Charter Schools

Article excerpt

Nancy Haines-Moskala is furious about the planned closing in June of her son's cyber charter school.

"You are obligated to deliver the same education to our children that we were promised by you when we enrolled our children in this school," Haines-Moskala, 43, of Lincoln Place told the board of STREAM Academy at a Wilkins meeting last week.

STREAM has had its enrollment decline as more cyber charter schools opened and traditional school districts boosted their online offerings to bring back students who left for charter schools, taking state subsidies with them.

"One of the reasons we believe enrollment is so low ... with the increasing availability of a variety of technologies, parents and students have more options than ever before," said Sarah McCluan, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which operates STREAM Academy.

Almost every district in Allegheny County offers cyber education for students, ranging from a few classes to a full school, AIU executive director Linda Hippert said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools said it spent more than $45 million on tuition in the 2011-12 school year for about 3,125 students who lived with the school district but were attending charter schools. Of that, about $11.4 million paid the tuition for 789 students enrolled in cyber charter schools.

In response, the district opened Pittsburgh Online Academy in the fall.

Of the 47 students in sixth through 12th grade enrolled in the academy, about 20 percent returned from cyber charter schools, administrator Mark McClinchie said.

"I think we'll continue to grow probably 20 to 30 percent a year," he said.

Cyber school advocates say districts are realizing what online providers have known for years: Cyber education allows students to learn at a more flexible pace and removes distractions, such as bullying.

"Fifty percent of the kids who go to cyber charter schools are failing in their home districts, so it's an effort to try to get them back up to grade level," said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools in West Chester. …