Eight more cyber charter schools apply to Pennsylvania

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With 16 full-time cyber charter schools, Pennsylvania already has one of the highest concentrations of such schools in the nation, but now the state has received applications for eight more for the 2013-14 school year.

The state Department of Education has scheduled hearings in Harrisburg on the proposals on Nov. 26, 28, 29 and 30.

Two of the organizations submitting proposals previously were rejected for this school year: Mercury Online Charter School of Pennsylvania and Akoben Cyber Charter School.

The other six are Urban Cyber Charter School, Insight PA Cyber Charter School, V3 Cyber Charter School, PA Career Path Cyber Charter School, MB Resiliency Cyber Charter School of Pennsylvania and Phase 4 America Cyber Charter School.

Cyber charter schools must be approved by the state. Bricks-and-mortar charter schools must be approved by local school districts. Cyber charter schools deliver much of their instruction online and typically provide home computers.

Last school year, more than 32,000 students statewide were enrolled in cyber charter schools. Four new cyber charter schools opened this year.

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.

While there has been much debate over how much that fee should be, it remains the same for cyber charter schools as for bricks-and-mortar charter schools.

Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who has studied charter schools, said, "Pennsylvania, as far as I know, has the most lucrative funding for virtual schools. It's very favorable. It doesn't surprise me more companies and entities want to come there for virtual schooling."

Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said he does not know the particulars of the applications, but said, "I think what we need to focus on is having good, high-quality schools of all types."

He hopes the state ensures that "every one of the cyberschools that is approved has everything in place to be a high-performing cyberschool."

Here are some of the plans of the applicants:

• Akoben last year applied for an African-centered program based in Philadelphia for grades 5-11, beginning with 400 and growing to 1,450 in five years. The latest application provides some revisions of the earlier rejected proposal.

• Insight PA Cyber Charter School, based in Springfield, Delaware County, would be operated by Pennsylvania Community Partners for Education in Philadelphia, focusing on at-risk students. It would serve grades 6-12, with a projected enrollment of 1,000 in the first year, growing to 3,600 by the fifth year. K12 Inc. -- which already manages or provides curriculum to some other cyber charter schools in the state -- would provide curriculum and management services.

• MB Resiliency Cyber Charter School of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia and listing its contact as Shalom Inc., would serve grades 9-12 "in an emotionally supportive environment." It would start with 50 students in January 2014 and grow to 200 by the fourth year.

• Mercury Online Charter School of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, would serve grades K-12, starting with 200 and growing to 650 in the fifth year. The school would offer teacher-led live webinars as well as asynchronous learning. The application notes the Mercury model has been implemented at the Mercury Online Charter School of Southern California.

• PA Career Path Cyber Charter School, based in Allentown, Lehigh County, and connected with the Hispanic American Organization, would serve students in grades 6-12, starting with 350 and growing to 1,050 in the fifth year. With a goal of reaching at-risk, minority and low-income students, it would provide "rigorous academic and technical career paths using a holistic approach."

• Phase 4 America Cyber Charter School would use the K12 curriculum. Its president and CEO is Terrie Suica-Reed, who helped to found Phase 4 Learning Center Inc., which operates in the Pittsburgh area, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

• Urban Cyber Charter School, based in York, would serve grades 6-12, beginning with 250 students and growing to 1,250 in the fifth year. It plans to offer blended learning -- a combination of cyber- and face-to-face education. It would partner with the YWCA to offer satellite locations in York, Harrisburg and Lancaster. In concert with Universal Companies Family of Schools, it would set up hubs in the Philadelphia area for optional tutoring and networking.

• V3 Cyber Charter School, based in Middletown, near Harrisburg, would serve grades 7-12, beginning with 300 and growing to 1,200 students in the fifth year. Its application said its program would include vocational technical education and give "the opportunity for traditional learning when geographically possible."

The applications can be found at www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/charter_schools/7356/2012_cyber_charter_school_applications/1251867.

education - state

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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