A Pennsylvania lawmaker has introduced legislation aimed at changing the accountability structure for the state’s nearly two-decade-old cyber charter school system.
State Rep. Curt Sonney, R-Erie, unveiled his plans this week for HB 1897. At its core, Sonney’s proposal would require all Pennsylvania school districts to offer a full-time cyber education program.
In doing so, the system would be accountable to local communities, Sonney said of the rationale behind his bill.
“It is my intention that this legislation will eliminate the tension between school districts and cyber charter schools,” Sonney said in a statement.
He added, “The goal of my legislation is to offer students access to high-quality cyber education programs in a way that is accountable and transparent to local communities.”
Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania were first introduced in 2002. At the time, the state’s General Assembly authorized their creation, with oversight taking place at the state level.
In the news release announcing his plan, Sonney said he believed the current system in place is flawed because current cyber charter schools lack local accountability, even though taxpayer dollars support their existence.
Sonney, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he has consistently fielded concerns from parents who are worried about the cost and accountability of the cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania.
“Cyber education is an important choice parents should be able to make for their children, but local accountability is desperately needed to control the quality and cost of these programs,” Sonney said in the statement.
Sonney’s proposal has garnered criticism from at least one organization – the National Coalition for Public School Options, a coalition advocating for a range of public education options, including charter, online and magnet schools.
Colleen Cook, president of the Public School Options Board, issued a news release on behalf of the organization and described Sonney’s proposal as an “irresponsible piece of legislation.”
In her statement, Cook said 35,000 Pennsylvania students have opted to attend alternate public schools for various reasons.
“Whether it was to escape failing or dangerous schools, or because they suffer from physical or emotional disabilities, the simple fact is that this bill would prove disastrous for thousands of families, if passed,” Cook said in the statement.
Her statement further read, “We plead for even-headed voices, who understand that politicians and bureaucrats do not know better than parents, to prevail and defeat this awful bill.”
In his legislative memo outlining the legislation, Sonney is calling on all public school districts to offer full-time cyber charter schools in the 2021-22 school year.
Other provisions in Sonney’s bill include requirements staff be properly certified and specific student-to-teacher ratios be adhered to for core subjects.