It’s a shame that so soon after National School Choice Week, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget address assumed the language and stance of those opposed to life-saving education options for children as his own. As a matter of fact, some groups, organizations, and even legislators have been heard and seen celebrating Shapiro’s call to reduce funding to over 68,000 Pennsylvania cyber charter students.

How do you think those cyber charter students feel knowing that their governor, their legislature, education associations, and other organizations are actively campaigning against their educational home?

Parents have chosen these education options in the best interest of their children. For many, it’s a very last resort – one that parents don’t even know about or contemplate until they search for a solution to issues with their district. They need an alternative because their children are being poorly served or even harmed in some way.

The decision to change education models is not something parents do on a whim, but rather typically after months or years of trying to “make it work” within the traditional district system. Based on a 2021 survey by PaFEC, the majority of parents waited at least two years, and as many as 11 years, before making a switch from district school to cyber school.

At first, COVID was a popular reason for moving to cyber charter. But even after the COVID crisis abated, many parents still decided to keep their children in their cyber charter programs due to better academics (24 percent), differing family values (22 percent), need for safety (16 percent), or poor previous district experience (13 percent).

Children like Shyanne, who has turned from an introverted, educationally (grade levels) behind, non-verbal little girl into a young woman bursting with confidence, excelling both academically and socially.

Or Alix, who left what she reported as a bullying, antisemitic, stressful district environment.

“My life drastically changed for the better. No longer am I bullied, bored, and dreading school. I genuinely enjoy going to school to learn, and my teachers are beyond helpful.”

Or the Malliard family, whose two children with extensive medical needs escape the detrimental and punitive education environment for one carefully tailored to work around their therapy and medical appointments.

Or Ginny, a student diagnosed with ADHD, who is now able to learn from direct life experiences by traveling with her military-enlisted father. Shannon (her mom) tells us:

“As a military family, we feel compelled to serve so that everyone may have the gift of freedom. My husband puts his life on the line to protect it, while my daughter and I do everything we can to support him. We take words like ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ very seriously, and believe in education options for all learners.”

Or my own daughter, Virginia, who has regained her strength, confidence, and motivation due to the safety and security of home-based education she needs to thrive.

None of these children deserved the treatment they received while attending district schools, but cyber charters help to rectify it. And yet Gov. Shapiro and some legislators seem to want to “reform” it out of existence.

They refuse to acknowledge the “logic” that cyber charters, while they do not function exactly the same as district-based education, have different costs because that would work against the ongoing pursuit by some at our capitol to actively support only district-based education and students.

Some district schools do an amazing job for some students. As a matter of fact, nine Pennsylvania public schools were named “Blue Ribbon Schools” by the U.S. Department of Education. But there are bound to be some students, even perhaps attending those schools, who could be better served elsewhere but simply don’t know about their options or don’t have the ability to obtain their best fit. Just like the families earlier, cyber charter could help the child with special needs obtain services districts can’t provide by giving the bullied child the escape, the child with medical needs the schedule, or the security for the anxious or emotionally distraught child.

District-based education is not for everyone, and as a matter of fact, can be life-threatening. If our folks over at the capitol truly care about the education of all students, they must acknowledge that every single student is worthy of advocacy – no matter what education model they choose. We are dealing with children’s lives here, not just some line item in the budget. Logic would dictate that – for the benefit of the children – all education models should be supported, not suppressed.

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