A March 12 hearing before Pennsylvania’s Senate Education Committee was dominated by debate over funding for the state’s cyber charter schools, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. As expected, Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak’s proposals to set a statewide tuition rate for cyber charter schools was sharply criticized by charter operators and parents. Several warned that the changes would reduce funding for cyber charters and could threaten their viability. Under the current law, school districts pay the same amount for a student of a cyber school as for one at a regular charter school. The rates vary widely and are based on how much a district spends to educate students in its own schools. But because cyber schools enroll students from across the state, their districts pay different amounts for students receiving the same instruction. For example, Jenkintown paid $15,076 per student last year and Reading $5,380. Zahorchak said he and Gov. Ed Rendell favored a statewide funding rate for cyber schools based on the "most efficient, effective cyber charters" that have met No Child Left Behind standards. For the 2009-10 academic year, the rate would be a maximum of $8,856, but no more than what a district pays for a student at a regular charter school. Joanne Jones Barnett, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, said cyber rates reflected the state’s inequities in funding public education in general. She said one rate would not cover all cyber charter schools, noting that the state’s 11 cyber charters offer different grades and have students with differing needs…

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