Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pennsylvania Staying on the Bandwagon to Halt Cyber Charters: How Did We Get to This Point?

Pa doeCaptureOver the past six months, a growing number of states have either ended their virtual charter school or placed a temporary moratorium on them.  Late in the summer, I posted on Chicago, Maine, and North Carolina.  Shortly thereafter, Florida followed.  In some instances, the impetus was low quality and negative study findings.  In other instances, the impetus was outright scandal, the largest of which was in Pennsylvania and led to a federal indictment.  Now, the Education Law Center is asking Pennsylvania to join the list of moratorium states.  At the very least, the Center asks the state to refrain from granting new charters, citing poor performance, high student turnover, fraud, and a huge price tag.  But according the the Pennsylvania Department of Education, it lacks the statutory authority to impose a moratorium. In the meantime, the Department has been denying cyber applications on a case by case basis.  Last year, it denied all eight cyber charter applications.  This year it has six new applications.  My guess is that it will deny them as well.  If it does, the moratorium would be de facto if not explicit.

Stepping back from the particular merits of cyber charters, education policy in this area unprincipled.  On the one hand, cyber charters, like other charters, were ushered into these states with almost no strings attached.  Now that those "chickens have come home to roost," states are taking the opposite approach and banning them altogether.  Whether you are a friend or foe of cyber charters, this makes little sense.  A category of schools does not go from inherently good and trustworthy to inherently bad in a matter of a few short years.  The closer truth is that they are probably neither, but simply the product of poor conceived legislation.  A little more thoughtfulness on the front end about how to fund them could have avoided many of these problems.  Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon's recent guide is an excellent example of this thoughtfulness.


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