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Traditional Schools Outperform Cyber Schools: Should They Receive the Same Funding?

Traditional Schools Outperform Cyber Schools: Should They Receive the Same Funding?


Cyber schools couldn’t possibly have the same expenses as brick-and-mortar schools, right? They don’t need to pay for things like they don’t have to pay for things like building maintenance, sports teams and facilities, or police and security. Plus, many of them already receive tuition payments. 

Pennsylvania Wants To Cut Their Funding

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers are looking to cut the funds that cyber charter schools receive drastically. Many local school superintendents say it’s a financial drain on their budgets with little to no oversight. A state senator has said that Pennsylvania’s 13 cyber charter schools consistently underperform, yet the superintendent says she’s still spending $8 million of her budget to fund them. Anything that is being advertised as free is being paid for in tax dollars. 

The estimated enrollment in Pennsylvania cyber schools is about 10,000, and yet that’s $82 million a year, which is then taken out of the public schools. According to the superintendent, the funds are badly needed to pay basic bills such as electricity. 

Lawmakers want to cap cyber school tuition per student at $8,000, while students in public schools receive about $13,000. The head of one of the largest cyber schools in PA said that would cripple the school and result in massive layoffs. This particular cyber school (PA Cyber) in Midland, PA, has six buildings, including a $10 million administrative headquarters, but no students are present on campus, and most teachers work from home. 

They Don’t Perform Well

While cyber schools claim they offer parents who are unhappy with their public schools a better alternative, cyber schools do not perform anywhere near as well as public schools. “According to the latest assessments, only 31 percent of PA Cyber students scored proficient or advanced in the English language arts compared to 54.5 percent statewide. And only 12.8 percent reached those standards in math compared to 38.3 percent statewide.” The head of PA Cyber says this is because students who transfer to cyber charter schools are already underperforming at their home schools, and his school has to catch them up. 

Little to No Oversight

Many are concerned that online charter schools have little to no oversight. In fact, most California students attending a virtual high school managed by the for-profit company K12 Inc. do not earn a diploma. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of kids attend online schools.  According to a report by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, on average, 50.1% of virtual high school students graduate within four years, compared with 84% of high school students nationally.  

The peer-reviewed report examines the performance of publicly funded online schools. It found that “the average student-teacher ratio in the nation’s public schools was 16 students per teacher. But virtual schools reported having 2.7 times as many students per teacher (44) compared to the national average.” They also discovered, “Of the 320 virtual schools with available school performance ratings, 67 (48.5%) were rated acceptable by their state education agencies.” 

Large Population of Special Education Students

A large percentage of students in online schools are special-education students. The students and parents say they chose cyber schooling to avoid bullying and a long commute. Parents of special-education students were more likely than parents of general-education students to say they chose online schooling because their children experienced behavior problems at their previous schools and their children’s special needs were not being met. They tend to report a higher satisfaction level at the cyber charter school than at public schools. 

There Are Some Advantages

A cyber charter school teacher argued that cyberlearning offers advantages, particularly for ADHD students. “We can get more done academically because there’s no lunch break, no moving from class to class, no disruption from disciplinary situations, no walking the kids to and from the bus or study hall, no calling roll since the software does it automatically, so that leaves more one-on-one instructional time.” 

While there are clear advantages to online schooling for some students, they do not perform anywhere near as well as public schools. So, should they receive the same amount of funding?

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Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.