What virtual ed advocates are urging

When a PA Cyber office was opened in State College, the mission was to better serve central Pennsylvania-area families who have children in the cyber charter school.

The State College regional office, 1700 S. Atherton St., opened late last year with three full-time staff members.

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School offers online learning and has 77 students enrolled from Centre County, Executive Coordinator Casie Colalella said.

Colalella said the new space was a relocation of an office that was in Bellefonte.

The facility is used to help with enrollment, student orientation, parent information events, academic and social enrichment opportunities, workshops, state testing and more.

“The decision to relocate to State College was made easy due to the increased accessibility and more convenient location for our families,” PA Cyber Deputy Chief Operating Officer Eric Woelfel said in a statement.

And with new locations like the one in State College comes the push to enhance virtual education.

In a letter sent last week to the state secretary of education, CEOs of nine cyber charter schools invited Pedro Rivera to engage in talks about how virtual education can improve.

“What we are proposing is an open and honest discussion on what virtual education can and cannot do, dig deeper into the data and recommendations relative to Pennsylvania, and change whatever needs to be changed to make Pennsylvania the national model for high-quality and cost-effective virtual education,” said Joanne Barnett, CEO of the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School in King of Prussia. “It’s time to stop the combative nature of discourse relative to public education and work together for the benefit of the students, parents, and taxpayers.”

Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Bob Fayfich told the CDT in an email that the group is calling for several improvements including authorizing structure, enrollment criteria, accountability for performance, funding levels based on cost and performance-based funding.

He said cyber charter school enrollment “has slowed” because public school districts created district-operated cyberschools that cause competition.

There are about 36,000 students in cyber charter schools — a number that has remained consistent for a few years, Fayfich said.

Public relations specialist Lauren Hawk said in a press release on behalf of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools that the schools “are doing a good job of serving a student population that would otherwise fall through the cracks in the traditional system.”

“But there is always room for improvement and the cyber CEOs want to look at the national recommendations, determine what can work in Pennsylvania, and work together with the (state) Department of Education to make those improvements happen,” she said.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

Cyber charter school improvements

Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools Bob Fayfich told the CDT in an email that the cyber charter school improvements are multifold including authorizing structure, enrollment criteria, accountability for performance, funding levels based on cost and performance-based funding.

He outlined those improvements:

▪ Authorizing Structure: We would expect to talk with PDE relative to any potential changes in the oversight of virtual charter schools that would be more in line with the national recommendations.

▪ Enrollment Criteria: The study recommends enrollment caps that are illegal in Pennsylvania so little discussion is anticipated on that topic, other than on mutually agree-to caps that are already in place.

▪ Enrollment Levels: The study recommends establishing criteria for entering a virtual charter school, which is illegal for any public school in Pennsylvania so no discussion is expected on that topic.

▪ Accountability for Performance: The area that will probably involve the most discussion and potential action, although much of what is recommended is contained in House Bill 530 (in relation to cyber charter school funding and comprehensive charter school reform).

▪ Funding Based on Costs: An area for discussion but it is also covered in a funding commission proposed in H.B. 530.

▪ Performance-Based Funding: Not something the virtual charters are willing to discuss unless PDE is prepared to also discuss it relative to all public schools.