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December 10, 2012

Charter schools impact public school budgets

NEW CASTLE — Costs to New Castle and other public school districts statewide are mounting for students attending charter and cyber charter schools.

By law, each district pays for students who choose those forms of alternative education. The money comes from the districts’ budgets.

But specifically, it is derived from the state subsidy a school district receives. The education subsidy is given for each student in the district, and the money follows the student.

The 2010-11 school year was the last year districts were eligible to receive up to 30 percent reimbursement from the state for cyber charter school costs, explained Joseph Ambrosini, the New Castle district’s business manager. The commonwealth has eliminated that funding as part of overall budget cuts.

The New Castle district pays $8,166 per year for each regular student and $16,979 per year for each special education student enrolled in charter or cyber charter school, Ambrosini said..

In 2009-10 school year, the district had about 70 students in charter schools, and paid out about $520,000.

In 2010-11, the district had about 80 students enrolled and paid $765,000 in tuition, he said. But that year, the received $117,000 in state reimbursement.

Last school year and this year, the district has received zero reimbursement, he said.

In 2011-12, about 90 students were enrolled at a payout of $810,000 by the district.

For this year, the district has budgeted $825,000 for charter school fees, he said.

Ambrosini pointed out that the cost significantly impacts the district’s budget.

“Financially, charter schools have in the past, and in the foreseeable future, will continue to burden the district’s general fund,” he commented, acknowledging “there is a niche for students who truly believe they could benefit from the different programs that charter and cyber schools offer.”

Currently, New Castle has 26 students enrolled at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and 11 at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Cyber Charter School, both in Midland, Beaver County, and an additional 11 are enrolled in the Commonwealth Connections Academy Charter School in Harrisburg.

Ambrosini pointed out that as an alternative, more districts are starting their own cyber charter schools to help defray budget costs, and New Castle is considering that.

“I’m sure the New Castle Area School District will follow along with that thinking,” he said.

Mohawk and Neshannock school districts already have started their own cyberschools.

According to Mohawk superintendent Kathleen Kwolek, last year the district had 34 students attending six other cyberschools throughout the state and paid $261,939 in tuition.

Mohawk pays $8,376 for a regular education student and $14,514 for a child with special needs, she noted.

Mohawk’s own cyber program had seven full-time and 21 part-time student enrolled last year.

The district has an on-site coordinator who monitors student attendance and program completion and its own certified teachers deliver instruction and work one-on-one with the students, Kwolek said.

The district’s total cost for its program, which got into full swing last year, is about $34,360, and it pays a fixed sum for the on-site coordinator and course work.

This year, the district has 18 students enrolled in outside charter schools and six full-time and six part-time in the district’s program, Kwolek said.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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