House Bill 526 and Senate Bill 34 could help save district, taxpayers money
In the 2018-19 school year, Bellefonte Area School District spent $582,113.56 to fund tuition for students within the district attending cyber charter schools, which district Director of Fiscal Affairs Ken Bean said is used with taxpayer dollars. Under House Bill 526 and Senate Bill 34, that money could be saved and instead put toward a plethora of projects within the district that could also come with savings for local residents.
House Bill 526 and Senate Bill 34 would require families to pay out-of-pocket tuition to attend cyber charter schools if their home school district offers its own cyber education program. Bellefonte Area School District does, through the Bellefonte eLearning Academy, under direction of Cyber Education Coordinator Rebecca Leitzell.
House Bill 526 is sponsored by Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie).
Senate Bill 34 is sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) who said, “Currently, school districts are responsible for the tuition of resident students attending cyber charter schools. This is set at the amount of the district's net per-student share of state basic education funding. Under my legislation, a district that offers a cyber program equal in scope and content to the cyber charter school will not be responsible for the tuition costs. Instead, tuition costs will be treated in cyber situations the same as they are when resident students attend non-district brick-and-mortar schools.”
According to Superintendent Michelle Saylor, the average cost for Bellefonte Area students to attend BeLA is about $4,000 per student. The average tuition for one student in a cyber charter school is about $16,000.
“Coupled with this staggering cost is that the vast majority of PA cyber schools consistently place in the bottom five percent,” Saylor said. “Often cyber charter students who return to the traditional public schools show significant needs for remediation.”
Bean said that if the bills are passed, Bellefonte Area School District would use that money saved to be put toward taxpayer savings in millage rate, future capital projects, social workers, athletic fields or a combination of several projects mentioned.
BeLA has proven success with 100 percent of it students who took state standardized tests scoring proficient or advanced. According to data from Niche.com, a Pittsburgh-based rating and review website, of the cyber charter schools funded by Bellefonte Area School District in the 2018-19 school year, none have higher rates.
*Photo provided by Leslie Elder
To learn more about the BeLA program, visit this link: BeLA. Those students who are a part of cyber education at Bellefonte Area School District also have the option of working one-on-one with a certified teacher, participating in district-sponsored extracurricular activities, attending Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology and more. He or she also graduates with a Bellefonte Area diploma.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD