In the wake of a state budget that eliminates reimbursements to school districts for student enrollment in cyber schools outside of their districts, public school officials are planning a campaign to re-attract the students they've lost.
Television advertisements, sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Public School Coalition and the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools, will air before the start of the next school year.
"Public schools are a choice," said Spring Cove Superintendent Rodney Green, who hopes the ads not only attract students to classrooms, but also increase awareness of cyber education offered by local districts.
For example, Green said, Spring Cove School District provides state-approved cyber curriculum, instruction and supplies including a computer with Internet service for half the price that cyber charter schools charge.
"The cost school districts pay to cyber schools is inflated," Green said.
Cyber schools offer education for students who choose to study from home and communicate with a teacher via telephone or Internet. Some of the reasons include schedule flexibility, health or social problems.
If a student attends a district's own cyber school, the district loses no money. But if a student attends a cyber charter school, that school receives a slice of the district's budget equal to the state government's per-student allocation.
For many Blair districts, that means more than $8,000 for a regular student and $15,000 for a special needs student.
Blair County school budgets from districts including Spring Cove, Hollidaysburg and Tyrone were each hit for costs to enroll more than 40 students in cyber charter schools last year.
Boards from those districts have contributed $4,000 each toward the TV advertisements.
Cyber charter schools, including PA Cyber Charter, use radio advertisements to attract students to their education services.
"Competition is good," said Nick Trombetta, CEO of PA Cyber. "But our concern is that school districts overpromise and underdeliver."
On the flip side, the Pennsylvania Department of Education tracks information on cyber charter schools, and lists on its website that more than 40 percent of cyber charter schools failed 2009-10 state standards for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Agora Cyber Charter, PA Leadership Charter, Commonwealth Connections or PA Virtual Charter are all in the corrective action phase of Pennsylvania's AYP education standards.
Of 43 Spring Cove students enrolled in a cyber charter school, 16 students attended one of those four.
"For a school to slip to Corrective Action I or II means the school has numerous years of low performance," Green said. "That simply has never been tolerated in this district."
With the state no longer reimbursing districts for charter enrollment, school administrators said district-wide expenses including teacher salaries are affected.
"When one of our students goes to a [cyber] charter school, we lose $8,000," Hollidaysburg Superintendent Paul Gallagher said when the board voted to contribute to TV ads in June. "Public education is the backbone of our country and we need to support it."
Not all school officials agree with spending money to attract students rather than spending for the betterment of students they already serve.
Despite 136 students attending cyber charter school from the Altoona Area School District, district spokeswoman Paula Foreman said the district won't be pitching in for advertisements.
"Four thousand dollars is a lot of money that can be spent directly for school expenses," Foreman said.