Cyber charter schools are charter schools with an interesting twist. They exist in cyberspace. Cyber charters are similar to regular charter schools in many ways: they are independent, public schools sponsored by public school districts or the state department of education. The charter’s issuing authority monitors the performance and the integrity of the school, but they are otherwise free of traditional bureaucratic control. And like all schools of choice, they are accountable to the most important people: those who utilize the services provided.
Cyber charter schools were born during the infancy of the World Wide Web in the early 90’s. It did not take long for educational entrepreneurs to marry the revolutionary communications technology of the internet with the revolutionary educational idea of charter schools. As explained in an interesting article on the birth and progress of charter schools, the two seemed destined for one another.
Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of the cyber charter school movement, although some school districts and teachers’ unions are very resistant to the establishment of cyber charters and have brought multiple lawsuits claiming that the charter law did not allow for cyber charters. Despite such opposition, the first cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School was started by a school superintendent to help public school students to stay in their school district rather than be bused to Ohio because the district has no public high school. It was a surprise to the school’s organizers when it attracted students from across the state, enrolling 525 students from 105 school districts. Most cyber charter schools allow enrollment by students from many school districts. Some are statewide and others are regionally based.
In order to remove some of the controversy surrounding charter schools, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, at the behest of the Schweiker Administration, passed Act 88 of 2002. Act 88 places the evaluation, approval, and oversight responsibilities for cyber schools with the state Department of Education. Further, the legislation requires the state to reimburse 30% of the costs of all cyber charter schools. When coupled with the 35% statewide average subsidy per student (including charter school students), the state now pays nearly two-thirds of the average cyber school tuition. Act 88 has put cyber charter schools on firm ground in Pennsylvania and has only enhanced its position as a leader in the cyber charter movement.
Currently, almost 16,000 students attend the 12 cyber charter schools located in Pennsylvania. For a current list of cyber charter schools and to visit the PA Department of Education website, please click here.