Pennsylvania Cyber Schools Spend $16.8 Million On Marketing In One Year

These are taxpayer dollars taken with the understanding that they would be spent on educating students, but instead, well, they're not.
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Education Voters of Pennsylvania do some extraordinary work for public education here in the Keystone State, and that has included hounding cyber charters to fork over documentation of how much they spend on marketing. 

It’s labor-intensive work – the cybers send over thousands of pages of invoices, heavily redacted, and volunteers just have to go through page by page. Over a year ago, EdVoters ploughed through a trove of documentation and found that from 2019-2021, the cyber charters had spent over $35 million on marketing. Everything from sponsoring local events to newspaper ads to a float in a Philadelphia parade, all paid for with taxpayer dollars. That would be taxpayer dollars taken with the understanding that they would be spent on educating students, but instead, well, not.

Now EdVoters has finished sifting through the materials from 2021-2022, and it’s … well, it’s something else.

$16.8 million, at least. That’s a lot of money, and digging into the details makes it look even worse. Achievement House Cyber Charter School spent $1,306 per student on advertising.

PA Cyber spent $58,000 on swag, including $9,725 on owl-shaped erasers, $6,750 on custom lapel pins, $8,678 on branded Post-It notes, and $18,120 on branded magnets.

PA Cyber spent $81,000 on branded clothing and mugs.

PA Virtual Charter School spent $132,404 on bus wraps and other transit advertising.

PA Virtual Charter school spent $28,807 on sponsorships of minor league baseball teams.

Insight Cyber Charter School spent $959,053 on a contract for undisclosed services with for-profit management company K-12, Inc.

Your public school might have the occasional pep rally or student assembly to build morale and school spirit, but you’ve got nothing on the cybers. Reach Cyber Charter School spent $125,308 on Target gift cards for students.

But Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), the 800 pound cyber-gorilla of PA cyber schools, has made a real science out of “events” for its customers. Here’s some of what EdVoters found CCA spending money on:

More than $17,000 for family parties at Dave & Busters, Ninja Nook, 814 Lanes and Games, and Lehigh Valley Laser Tag.

$60,000 for a three-year sponsorship agreement with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and $6,458 on tickets for CCA families to attend games. 

More than $75,000 on catering, concessions, parking, and tickets for CCA students and families to attend Philadelphia Phillies baseball games.

These are, I will point out again, taxpayer dollars at work. Taxpayer dollars collected specifically for educating students. Meanwhile, a bill to bring cyber school funding and transparency into line is awaiting state Senate attention, which may never happen because cybers and their lobbyists are making loud noises about not depriving the children of an education, which I guess has to include minor league baseball and Ninja Nook.

This was originally published at the progressive education blog Curmudgucation.

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a recently retired classroom secondary English teacher of 39 years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, and blogs at Curmudgucation.

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