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MORGAN: Why Cyber Charters Must Exist – A Student Perspective

If you ask teenagers and kids today how they feel about school, you will find many are unhappy with their placement. At my school, however, this is not the case. I attend a cyber charter school, and ever since switching from public brick and mortar, my life has become infinitely better.

Before the pandemic, I attended my local public middle school in a highly rated school district. I went to school five days a week in person, and I was emotionally drained from the toxic environment and copious amounts of busywork. I was not being challenged enough, either. In addition to schoolwork, the environment was anything but ideal. A classmate was heavily bullying me to the point where I would cry every day after school. What made it even worse was that I am Jewish, and this school had numerous antisemitic kids. I was extremely dissatisfied with my education, but I was fortunate to have parents who sought alternative options.

Once the pandemic hit, I transferred to an online cyber charter. I immediately was impressed by the academic rigor and the cooperative environment. In eighth grade, I found genuinely extraordinary human beings I am lucky to call my friends. Everyone was much more accepting of other people, and people were more diverse in their interests. In addition to the more welcoming environment, kids are more emotionally mature, and meaningful conversations occurred daily.

Many adults who have little experience with cyber charters assume that students receive no social interaction, but that is false. Through my new school, I can socialize with my friends while also not being drained from seeing people constantly. We also have Zoom classes every other day where we can interact in live time with our peers and teacher. Another criticism is that cyber students do not learn anything, but that is wrong. I have learned more in two years of cyber school than in five at a public school.

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. On top of this, I obtained the 504 plan I needed. At my old school, they denied accommodations requested by my doctor because I am a straight-A student despite having ADHD and anxiety. With my cyber charter, I have extra time and am less anxious about tests.

Additionally, more neurodivergent kids accept you for who you are at my cyber charter. There is less ableism and we are all focused on bettering one another. Going to my new school is honestly the best decision my parents and I have ever made.

Some students in brick-and-mortar schools could benefit from attending a cyber charter but are afraid to express their concerns to their parents. Numerous parents are not open to cyber charters due to misconceptions. That needs to change. My advice to my peers is to talk to your parents if you have fears or dislike brick-and-mortar school. Finding a school that is best for you should be the most important concern for your family. My advice to parents is to research cyber charter schools. Find the facts and how they work, talk to people who work there, and most importantly, listen to your children. Children should have a say in their education because it is their lives.

Cyber charter schools have remade my life in the most magical way. I am genuinely filled with joy while learning, and I am no longer doing busy work just because I finished my assignments early. I found true lifelong friends who share the same values as me. All of this is because my parents listened to my concerns and found a better option. Giving cyber charters a chance may offer a positive change in your child’s life.

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HRONCICH: Residential Assignment Is The Real Cause of Coaches’ PIAA Woes

Recent complaints from some Pennsylvania basketball coaches about unfair competition from private and charter schools make some legitimate points. Public schools can only take students from within their geographical districts, but private and charter schools can take students from anywhere.

Some coaches are calling for separate playoffs for district schools and other schools in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA). “It would help if schools with boundaries don’t have to play ones that don’t have boundaries,” said Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich.

But pushing kids from private and charter schools into separate playoffs isn’t the answer. Rather than reducing opportunities for some kids, coaches and other leaders should try to expand opportunities for all.

What do I mean? The root cause of the problem the coaches are citing is that Pennsylvania—like other states—assigns children to schools based on where they live. This probably made sense in the 1800s when cars and phones didn’t even exist. It would have been difficult to give children a variety of educational options.

In 2022, it makes no sense at all.

The answer is to fund students and let families choose the education that works for them. That would result in a tremendous flourishing of opportunities for all students. Maybe some schools would recruit athletes and become basketball, football, or track powerhouses. But other schools would focus on art or music and attract kids who excel in those areas. Some schools would emphasize vocational training and offer unique programs for their students. There would probably even be hybrid schools where students learn at school some days and at home other days.

This isn’t a pipe dream. In Pennsylvania, we already have tax credit scholarships and charter schools that allow some families to choose a school beyond the one they were assigned to. Other states offer vouchers that can be used at private schools. Education scholarship accounts (ESAs), which are already operational in six states and approved in five more, are the most flexible option. With ESAs, funds are deposited in restricted-use accounts that parents can spend on approved education-related expenses.

Funding students instead of a system would alleviate the competitive problems the coaches are complaining about. But more importantly, it would allow each child to attend the educational environment that suits them best. Imagine if schools were competing to be the best at academics, art, theater, vocational training, or speech and debate the way they currently compete in athletics. It would open a world of new possibilities for children.

The coaches who are complaining about the current system attempted to compare it to other levels of basketball. According to New Castle coach Ralph Blundo, “NBA teams don’t play Division I college teams. Division I teams that have scholarships don’t play Division III teams for championships because the circumstances are different. The ability to obtain players is different. I get all that. But you have to acknowledge and handle it because it hurts kids.”

That analogy doesn’t hold up. People aren’t assigned to NBA teams or to college based on where they live. They choose where to go based on who accepts them and what they think is the best fit. The coaches aren’t calling for college placement to be based on where people live to make an even playing field. But they fail to realize that residential assignment makes no more sense in K-12 than it would for college.

These coaches seem to think separating the private and charter kids into their own playoffs will ensure fairness. But there will always be some schools—and some children—who have more advantages than others. Schools that spend more on sports are likely to outperform other schools. Similarly, schools with more kids who can afford outside coaching or leagues are likely to outperform other schools. The answer isn’t pushing some kids out of the way. The answer is to change the system so each child can pursue his or her dreams.

Funding school systems or buildings is so 1800s. It’s 2022. It’s time to fund students and let all kids pursue the education that works best for them.

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PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission Votes for New Charter School Rules

In a 3-2 ruling along party lines, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted Monday in favor of new charter school rules championed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf, a Democrat, welcomed the commission’s decision.

“These regulations are a vital step in clarifying charter schools’ responsibilities to the taxpayers who fund them,” Wolf said. “We were forced to take this path when the legislature refused to act on our comprehensive reform package. Charter schools received nearly $3 billion in publicly paid tuition this school year. Parents and taxpayers have a right to know how those resources are being used.”

However, others believe it will make it harder for parents who want to send their kids to charter schools.

Previously, the House and Senate education committees rejected the rules and sent the IRCC letters saying they opposed approval.

“Wolf once again acted unilaterally to circumvent the legislature,” said Nate Benefield, senior vice president of the

Nathan (Nate) Benefield is the Senior Vice President at the Commonwealth Foundation.

Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank. “This ‘Lone Wolf’ strategy does a disservice to Pennsylvania voters, parents, and students.”

More than 40,000 children are on a waiting list for charter schools in the Delaware Valley region, the foundation said in a press release.

In 2020–2021, more than 170,000 students attended charter schools—an increase of almost 23,000.

Pennsylvania’s charter schools are public schools open to all students. And while charter schools serve more low-income and minority students than traditional district schools, they receive, on average, 25 percent less funding, the foundation said.

“Our governor hasn’t set foot in a charter school in seven years but insists that he knows what’s best,” said Benefield. “Instead of trying to stifle choice for families by unilaterally designing a bureaucratic labyrinth, Wolf should work with the legislature to empower parents and provide more education opportunities for every child in the commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, a study from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools showed Pennsylvania charter school enrollment rose 15.5 percent from 2020 to 2021 as public school enrollment dropped by 3.2 percent. Statewide, the number of charter school students grew to 169,252 pupils.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said the IRRC decision would hurt students.

“This regulation could result in numerous harms,” including lowered charter school tuitions, negatively impact minority operated and run charter schools, and increase the already “ballooning” waiting list,” the group said in a press release.

“Overall, the regulation could reduce educational choice options for Pennsylvania students, including the most vulnerable of minority and economically disadvantaged students. Public charter schools kept teaching our scholars during the pandemic, and recent enrollment numbers show that more and more parents are choosing charter schools.”

Jennifer Arevalo, CEO of Souderton Charter School Collaborative

The coalition slammed Wolf for reducing the money going to charter schools by $373 million in his budget request, noting that charter schools already get 25 percent less state funding than other public schools receive.

Jennifer Arevalo, CEO of the Souderton Charter School Collaborative said, “The new regulation would harm charter schools and charter students in the following two ways. The regulation will place additional requirements on new charter school applicants that extend beyond Charter School Law. While promoting a standard application, it does not limit districts from asking for more information from the applicants.

“The regulation does not resolve the redirection issue where some districts simply do not provide tuition for students who attend charter schools. This places charter schools in a precarious position of not being able to pay their bills. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) should make districts comply with school law.”

The Wolf administration listed the regulatory changes in its statement about the approval: “Provide clear application requirements for entities seeking to open a charter school, regional charter school, and cyber charter school; ensure that all Pennsylvania students are able to access charter schools; clarify the ethics requirements for charter and cyber charter school trustees; require school districts and charter schools to follow the same fiscal management and auditing standards; streamline the process for charter schools to request tuition payments from school districts and the state; and provide a consistent, common-sense method for charter schools to meet the employee health care requirements in state law.”

Those rules must still go to the state legislature for passage or revision and then to Wolf for his signature or veto.

There are 179 charter schools and cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania this school year. All 67 counties in Pennsylvania have students enrolled in some form of charter school.

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