Right to Know Requests Reveal Cyber Charter Waste, Lack of Oversight; Advocates, Lawmakers to Call for Immediate Reforms

HARRISBURG, Jan. 25 – Education Voters of Pennsylvania revealed flagrant waste and egregious lack of oversight in Pennsylvania’s nine largest cyber charter schools uncovered in 2021 Right-To-Know Request (RTK) request in a Capitol Rotunda press conference today. The request filed under the PA RTK law in the fall of 2021 resulted in more than 3500 pages of invoices detailing how cyber charter schools have wasted more than $35 million tax dollars on advertising during the previous two school years with no state audits or oversight.

“Wasteful spending in cyber charter school advertising further highlights the need for accountability and reforming our outdated and broken 25-year-old charter school law,” said PA State Representative Joe Ciresi. “There's strong bipartisan support for reform, including my proposal in HB 272 which would add long-overdue accountability and ethical standards while saving almost $400 million annually by reducing overpayments with data-driven, common sense reforms. It’s time for a vote.”

Speakers shared what was discovered through the RTKs, drew a straight line between more than $1 billion spent on cyber charter school tuition bills and increased property taxes, and called for an immediate vote on legislation that will enact long-overdue accountability and ethical standards in the charter sector and save almost $400 million in tax dollars annually.

“The state no longer provides funding to help districts pay for charter school tuition, so charter tuition bills are paid for primarily through property taxes,” said Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA.

"What we have learned is deeply troubling and should serve as a call to action for leaders in the Pennsylvania legislature to immediately allow a vote on legislation that will ensure public education dollars are used efficiently and appropriately educating children and to enact reforms that will hold charter schools to the same financial accountability and transparency standards as school districts.”

Cyber charter schools spent property tax dollars on bus wraps and billboards; TV, radio and internet advertisements; ads on Hulu, Pandora, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. They paid for museum sponsorships and embroidered Eddie Bauer vests. Commonwealth Charter Academy provided invoices totaling more than $8 million in advertising expenses for the 2020 fiscal year, yet reported $0.00 for advertising expenses on their tax forms.

In addition, every single cyber charter school is among the lowest performing schools in the commonwealth. The average graduation rate for Pennsylvania’s nine large cyber charter schools is just 58% ­— Pennsylvanians are spending $1 billion each year to send students to schools where more than 40% of students are not expected to earn a diploma.

“In a widely bipartisan statewide consensus, locally elected volunteer school directors in 410 districts have adopted resolutions calling upon the General Assembly to reform charter school funding so that districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying or reimbursing charter schools for costs they do not have,” said Lawrence Feinberg, Director, Keystone Center for Charter Change. “There is a straight line from charter tuition overpayments to increased local property taxes. It is long past time for the PA Legislature to pass charter reform.”

While cyber charter schools are awash in millions of dollars of excess funding that is wasted on advertising and who knows what else, we’ve heard more than two months of testimony in Pennsylvania’s school funding lawsuit trial describing the heartbreaking and deep deprivation of resources that students in school districts throughout the commonwealth are experiencing. 

The Google drive with all the documents received through the RTK requests can be found here, along with 500 school district fact sheets that detail how much each school district in PA would save with bipartisan charter school reforms proposed in Harrisburg.