Cyber charter schools to receive $201 million for COVID relief

Apr. 11—Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools will receive an additional $141 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The funding, through the American Rescue Plan, will bring the total COVID relief allocation to $201 million for the 12 schools.

The money comes amid growing enrollment and increasing frustration from leaders of traditional public schools, who have questioned why the cyber charter schools receive the money, even though they already had the technology infrastructure and don't have traditional buildings.

"It's curious to me why they're getting any money," said Lawrence A. Feinberg, director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The schools already had the technology, and having offices is "incredibly different" from having school buildings with hundreds of kids, he said.

The cyber charter schools used the first round of relief funds to purchase technology and cleaning supplies and send Target gift cards and phones to families, The Sunday Times reported in January.

The schools have yet to receive money from the second and third rounds of relief.

As of October, more than 62,000 children had enrolled in the taxpayer-funded schools. Enrollment has grown 63% since the pandemic began.

Cyber charter schools still have offices to clean and employees to keep safe, said Lenny McAllister, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

Although cyber charter students did not face the same kind of interruption to their education, many students still suffered learning losses because of the stress of the pandemic, he said.

The cyber charter schools did not seek the money, said Brian Hayden, CEO of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which has a regional office in Wilkes-Barre.

"This is appropriated to us through the federal bill," he explained.

His school, which spent $117,497 on cellphones for families and postage with the first allocation, said the federal funds have helped offer additional support to students.

The cyber school will use a portion of the $36.4 million to support student mental health services, he said. The school may also upgrade ventilation systems in its nine regional offices and spent money on supplies to help safely administer standardized tests in-person in September.

"We're very careful and precise on how we spend the money," Hayden said.

Commonwealth Charter Academy, which has a family service center in Dickson City, will receive $41 million from the American Rescue Plan, for a total COVID relief allocation of $56.7 million.

A school spokesman would not speak about possible uses for the funds. The Pennsylvania Department of Education posted allocations for all schools and districts on March 29.

"CCA has not received any notification about its official allotment of funding," Timothy Eller, senior vice president of outreach and government relations, wrote in an email. "When CCA is informed of how much and when funding will be received, the funds will be used for areas authorized by law."

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