On Monday night, the school board passed a resolution in support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526, which would provide financial relief to school districts that provide their own cyber programs.
The legislation proposes for outside cyber programs to be paid the amount it costs the district to educate a student in its own cyber program. However, additional costs would fall upon the parents.
Public schools are mandated to pay cyber charter tuition. The commonwealth was required to provide temporary financial assistance for cyber charter expenditures, beginning in 1997-98.
The commonwealth’s last year to provide the assistance to the public schools was the 2010-11 school year for the 2009-10 school year expenditures.
Business Administrator Sam Maney said the Clearfield Area School District started paying cyber charter tuition during the 2001-02 school year and continues to today.
During the nine-year period the commonwealth provided temporary financial assistance, Maney said the district’s unreimbursed cyber charter expenditures totaled $1.7 million.
For the 2010-11 school year, the district established Clearfield Cyber Services to provide students an alternative to a public school education.
Assistant Principal and Cyber Administrator Heather Prestash said the district’s cyber program closely mirrors its public education program.
She said it’s utilized for drop-out prevention, discipline and medical- and work-related reasons. She said it’s a very flexible schedule and there are half- or full-day cyber options.
Prestash said Clearfield Cyber Services’ students are still students of the district, and can be active in athletics and extra-curricular activities.
“I tell them to think of themselves as a Clearfield student,” she said. She added that these students are held to the district’s graduation requirements and receive a Clearfield diploma.
Currently, she’s noticing a trend of students coming back from outside cyber and parochial schools because they want to take advantage of the district’s dual enrollment program or attend the Career & Technology Center.
Also, she said that students and their parents are now more interested in utilizing Clearfield’s cyber program as their first option before looking elsewhere.
Prestash said she oversees Clearfield’s cyber students, and it’s easier to transition them back to public education if it doesn’t go well and they don’t make progress.
Maney said, from 2010-11 through 2017-18, the district has paid approximately $7 million, or 56.52 in real estate millage, for outside cyber and Clearfield Cyber Services expenditures.
“That’s an astronomical number,” he said. “There’s a tremendous disparity in the cost of outside charter tuition compared to the cost of educating a Clearfield Cyber Services student.”
Maney said that in 2017-18, outside cyber tuition costs were $11,377.66 for regular students and $26,874.98 for special education students. On average it costs $3,313.63 to educate a Clearfield cyber student.
If this proposed legislation had been in effect at the onset of 2010-11, he said the district would’ve saved $4.286 million, or 34.21 in real estate millage, in cyber expenditures.
“We’re not against cyber charter programs,” Maney said, “but we do have to find a fair and equitable way to fund this, to change this … it’s a burden on the taxpayer.”