Testimony about cyber-charter school bills

Howard B. Richman, PhD

 

Informational meeting of the House Education Committee

Somerset High School

August 9, 2001

 

I am an educator with a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.My wife and I provide leadership, materials, and services to private home education in Pennsylvania.We have edited a state-wide homeschool newsletter for the past 19 years.When students leave private home education in order to enroll in a cyber-charter school, we lose potential customers for the materials and services that we provide.Nevertheless we are strongly supportive of the new cyber-charter option.

 

In June of this year I was one of the many proponents of educational choice who opposed Senate Bill 891 because it would virtually end the healthy competition from the cyber-charter schools.On June 26, an op-ed piece that I wrote celebrating SB 891ís failure to pass in its current form was published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I have attached a copy of that op-ed piece to this testimony.

 

Like SB 891, HB 1733 is designed to solve the problems faced by school districts regarding cyber-charter school funding.But unlike SB 891, it appears to continue the cyber-charter option for parents throughout Pennsylvania.I cannot predict the effects of the various regulatory and financial provisions of HB 1733, and am thus not prepared to comment upon them.I urge you, however, to consult closely with the cyber-charter schools themselves and make sure that any new cyber-charter school law would expand, rather than contract, the options available to Pennsylvania families.

 

In my testimony today, I plan to focus on one small aspect of HB 1733 which I would like to see changed Ė the provision which would let the school districts exclude cyber-charter students from local school district sports and extra-curricular activities.Then I will briefly raise a topic that is not part of HB 1733, but perhaps should be Ė half-time enrollment of cyber-charter students in vocational-technical schools.

 

School Sports

 

Under current law, local school districts must let charter school students participate in their school sports and extra-curricular activities.Thus HB 1733 would take away something that is currently in place.Last year, 4 of the 529 students enrolled in Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (WPCCS) played on public school sports teams. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette on August 29, 2000, reported that one of those students, Amy Wohar, was pleased that the Cyber-charter school law let her play high school soccer and volleyball and participate in theater though her local school district would not have let her participate as a homeschooled student.

 

Thirty-eight representatives and sixteen senators are currently co-sponsoring bills that would require that privately homeschooled students be permitted to participate on the local public school sports teams.However, there are some thorny issues involved.For example, in order to comply with PIAA requirements, school students must maintain good grades in all of their classes.Some school officials have worried that an athlete who wasnít doing well in school might homeschool during the sports season just to avoid academic requirements.

Such a problem does not exist where the cyber-charter schools are concerned.A cyber-charter student is held accountable by the cyber-charter school staff who monitor the studentís work.Last year WPCCS called the school districts before each game to let them know that the student was maintaining the grades required for PIAA eligibility.

 

When you think of school sports, think of Jason Taylor, the most financially successful graduate, thus far, of a Pennsylvania home education program.I was reminded of him when I read in the July 29 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his parents have enrolled their three school-age children in the Allegheny Intermediate Unitís cyber-charter school.Just a few days earlier, 26-year-old Jason, signed a six-year $42 million contract as a defensive end with the Miami Dolphins.Jason is not only a star athlete but has also been involved in many charitable activities.He almost missed his chance to play school sports in high school and college, despite his strong academic and athletic abilities, as I reported in an attached article that appeared in the Fall 1992 issue of our newsletter.If you continue to allow cyber-charter school students on the public school sports teams, you may be helping our society produce other positive role models like Jason Taylor.

 

Vocational-Technical Education

 

Currently, students in both public and private schools can participate half-time in the local vocational-technical schools with their expenses paid by their local public school districts. The vo-techs were clearly founded in order to produce a skilled workforce, not a public school perk.

 

The charter school law currently does not let charter school students attend vocational-technical schools unless the vo-tech school is in the same district as the charter school.Since cyber-charter schools serve students in a wide region, this effectively bars most cyber-charter school students from attending a vo-tech half time.Perhaps HB 1733 could address this issue.

 

In Sum

 

If HB 1733 forms the basis of a new cyber-charter school law, it should:

 

1.      Provide for continuing expansion of cyber-charter alternatives for parents throughout Pennsylvania.

 

2.      Continue to let cyber-charter school students participate in school sports and extra-curricular activities.

 

3.    Provide that cyber-charter school students, like private school students, can attend local vo-tech schools half time.