Cyber charter education is now nearly a half-billion dollar industry in Pennsylvania, according to Public Citizens for Children & Youth, an advocacy group for public education and other supports for the region's children.
Earlier this year, a bill to overhaul Pennsylvania's charter school law — including small measures to reduce school districts' payments for cyber charters — fizzled in Harrisburg.
"We wanted to make sure people knew the scale and that it is hitting more and more school districts," said Donna Cooper, PCCY executive director. She called it "a situation that needs attention by the legislature."
PCCY calculated that districts across the commonwealth are paying $450 million to enroll their students in the state's 14 cyber charter schools. The five-county Philadelphia region contributes $132.5 million of that, $42 million more than five years ago.
Although bricks-and-mortar charters are authorized by local school districts, cyber charters are overseen by the state Department of Education.
In the region, Philadelphia and Bucks County school districts had the largest cost increases over five years. Philadelphia schools paid 59 percent more than they did during the 2011-12 school year and Bucks districts paid 55 percent more. Delaware County was next, paying 36 percent more. A combination of rising enrollment and per-pupil payments account for the bigger price tag.
Bob Fayfich, executive director of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, defended the costs. "Money is going to the organization that's educating the child," he said.
"The more important issue that some people raise is: Is that cost reasonable relative to the cost of the cyber school?"