Pa. denies proposals for 8 cyber charter schools

January 28, 2013 4:43:32 PM PST
State education officials denied applications for eight new cyber charter schools on Monday, citing significant deficiencies in their planned curricula, finances and overall operations.

The proposals left Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis questioning the would-be operators' ability "to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students."

"The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs," Tomalis said in a statement.

The state currently has more than 33,000 students enrolled in 16 cyber charters, which are publicly funded online schools. Supporters say they offer a good educational alternative to children who work best independently.

But a Stanford University study released in 2011 found Pennsylvania cyber charters performed worse in reading and math than both brick-and-mortar charters and traditional schools. And many of them are not meeting the federal academic benchmark known as "adequately yearly progress."

In November, state officials held public hearings on proposals to create eight more cyber charters. Applications came from Philadelphia as well as Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Lehigh and York counties.

Tomalis denied them all. However, applicants have the right to address the deficiencies in their applications and resubmit them, or to appeal the secretary's decision to the state Charter Appeal Board.

In addition to academic and fiscal problems, Tomalis noted that many applicants proposed to use physical spaces called learning centers in a way "that blurred the line between a brick-and-mortar and cyber charter school."

Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said his group was not involved with any of the eight applications. But he said that state officials have been working to ensure the charter approval process retains "fair, consistent, high-quality standards."

"In our opinion, that's the only way we can create consistently, high-quality charter schools," Fayfich said.