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Cyber charter school enrollment falling among Lancaster and Lebanon county students

02/01/2017 Lancaster Online By JEFF HAWKES

Competition from local school districts appears to be cutting into the growth of cyber charter schools here.

Fewer public school students in Lancaster and Lebanon counties are enrolling in cyber charters, but at the same time more students are opting to take online courses offered by their home district.

Enrollment in cyber charter schools peaked at 1,720 Lancaster and Lebanon county students in the 2014-15 school year.

Enrollment has since fallen to 1,384 pupils, or about the same level as seven years ago, according to Intermediate Unit 13 data.

Cyber charters are privately run online schools that bill school districts for each student enrolled. Cyber charters are popular choices of homeschooled students. Fourteen cyber charters operate in Pennsylvania.

The decline in local cyber charter enrollment comes as more districts are beefing up their online offerings, many of them through Lancaster-Lebanon Virtual Solutions, an alternative to cyber charters the intermediate unit launched in 2011.

In the first year, 12 local school districts joined Virtual Solutions, and 496 students took at least one online class, said Colette Cairns, education innovation specialist for IU 13.

Currently, Cairns said, 15 districts participate and 1,106 students are taking at least one class. A total of 564 are full-time online students.

School district savings

The fall in cyber charter enrollments is good news for school district budgets, said Cairns, speaking Tuesday at a roundtable discussion in Lancaster before the state House Democratic Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster.

The average local school district is billed $9,950 per full-time student enrolled in a cyber charter, Cairns said. But the intermediate unit’s charge to its participating districts for a full-time student is $4,360, which includes the cost of the laptop.

The average charge from cyber charters for a special education student is $18,263, Cairns said. The intermediate unit does not charge more for special education services.

Larry Mays, the principal of the School District of Lancaster’s cyber program, said 240 full and part-time students are enrolled.

The annual savings to the district because students aren’t in a cyber charter ranges between $445,000 and $650,000, he said.

Participating districts

Districts participating in the intermediate unit's online courses include Columbia, Donegal, Elizabethtown Area, Hempfield, Lampeter-Strasburg, Manheim Central, Penn Manor, Pequea Valley, School District of Lancaster and Solanco.

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