State approves 4 new cyber charter schools

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This fall, students will be able to choose from four new cyber charter schools, bringing the statewide total to 16, thanks to approvals by the state Department of Education.

The newcomers are ACT Academy Cyber Charter School, Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School, Esperanza Cyber Charter School and Solomon World Civilization Cyber Charter School. All have offices in Philadelphia.

Charter schools are public schools that students from throughout the state can choose to attend without paying tuition. A fee set by the state is paid by the student's home school district. Cyber charter schools deliver much of their instruction online and typically provide home computers.

The state denied the applications of three proposed cyber charter schools: Mercury Online Charter School of Pennsylvania, Akoben Cyber Charter School and Innovate-U Cyber Charter School.

One of the 13 cyber charter schools operating this year is going out of business. The state threatened to revoke the charter of Frontier Virtual Charter High School for financial and educational shortcomings, but the school last week decided to surrender its charter.

Of the 105,036 students who attended charter schools in 2011-12, a total of 32,322 were enrolled in cyber charter schools.

ACT, which stands for Achieving Community Transformation, is planning to serve 400 students in grades 9?12 this fall, growing to 2,000 by its fifth year.

Julie Stapleton-Carroll of Foundations Inc. based in Moorestown, N.J., said she helped get the school started and the board selected Foundations Inc. to manage it. The nonprofit has provided extended day and other support to education for 20 years, including involvement in more than 100 charter schools.

ACT's base will be at the Philadelphia Center for Arts & Technology, which is operated by Foundations.

The school's focus is to prepare students morally and intellectually, "embracing the vision and values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

The application for Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School shows its location as Philadelphia and states the founding coalition was led by Education-Plus Inc., a nonprofit that began in Idaho and has been in Pennsylvania for about two years, serving children with special learning needs, said Nicholas Torres, who helped to organize the school and chairs the board of the Pan American Academy Charter School in Philadelphia.

While open to all, it plans to specialize in services for children with disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia.

Esperanza Cyber Charter School, also to be based in Philadelphia, will target "underserved and at-risk students who have not always found success in traditional schools."

The school also will provide opportunities to celebrate Hispanic culture.

It plans to serve K-12, beginning with 600 students in the first year.

Along with a cyber program, it plans to have nearby brick-and-mortar learning centers -- staffed by counselors, academic coaches, tutors and administrators -- within a 45-minute drive of any student attending the school.

The curriculum will have a special emphasis on world civilization.

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