Quick summary: House Bill 1897 (Rep. Sonney, R-Erie) requires school districts to offer full-time cyber education programs by the 2021-22 school year. Overall, the proposal would require all districts to provide one full-time cyber education program and offer two alternative programs from third-party vendors. Existing cyber charter schools would be required to cease operations but could serve as third-party vendors.
Status: Introduced September 30, 2019
Subject of House Education Committee hearing, January 21, 2020
Provisions of House Bill 1987
House Bill 1897 amends the School Code to establish a new Article XVII-D called School District Cyber Education.
School district duties: All school districts must establish and operate full-time cyber education programs no later than the beginning of the 2020-22 school year. They must develop and submit a cyber education plan to the PA Department of Education (PDE) that includes:
- Any third-party vendors that are or will be engaged to offer a portion or all of the full-time cyber education programs and a copy of any draft or executed contracts.
- The mission, educational goals and instructional model of the programs.
- The curriculum to be offered, the methods to assess whether students are meeting educational goals and the methods to assist students who are not meeting educational
- The application and admission process for the enrollment of students.
- The proposed faculty and a professional development plan for the faculty.
- The blended-learning program options, if offered.
- A plan to address any Internet connectivity issues and lost or broken equipment.
- Information on how the district will work with parents and students to transition students attending cyber charter schools.
- Attendance, truancy, equipment and parental involvement policies.
- Methodology used to determine attendance, including the calculation of instructional time.
- Budget and projected enrollment.
- A plan for providing special education and related
- Any other information deemed necessary by the
Public hearing: The district must conduct a hearing in order to receive public comment on the cyber education plan at least 60 days prior to submitting the plan to PDE.
Annual reports: The district must submit an annual report describing its cyber education programs, including (for each):
- Total enrollment in the prior school year and projected enrollment for the current school year.
- Attendance information, including the number of truant and habitually truant students and the steps taken to address truancy.
- Academic information, including aggregate performance data and measures taken to address low performance of students.
- Cost per student.
- Updates to the cyber plan.
Full-time cyber education programs: In addition to offering its own full-time cyber education program, the district shall provide students with the option to participate in at least two alternative full-time cyber education programs. The district shall contract with a third-party vendor other than a school district or intermediate unit to provide content for the alternative programs.
Robust course offerings required: The full-time cyber education programs shall include robust selections of course offerings in core subjects and electives. The cyber course offerings shall include varying course levels comparable to the levels offered by the school district's traditional education program, including advanced course levels.
Curriculum: The curriculum of the cyber education programs must be aligned with Pennsylvania academic standards under 22 Pa. Code Ch. 4 (relating to academic standards and assessment).
Graduation: The cyber education programs must include, at a minimum, all courses required to meet state graduation requirements under 22 Pa. Code § 4.24 (relating to high school graduation requirements).
Grades offered: The district must offer the same grade levels for the cyber education programs as its traditional education programs.
Access to technology: The district must provide each student enrolled in a full-time cyber education program all instructional materials, equipment (including, but not limited to, a computer, computer monitor and printer) and all technology and services necessary for the online delivery of the curriculum and instruction, or the reimbursement for the provisions of this paragraph.
Onboarding process and orientation: The district must implement an annual onboarding process and orientation for a parent of a student and student participating in a cyber education program. The process/program must provide and review all cyber education program policies; discuss student engagement and parental involvement; and include any materials provided by a third-party vendor for students or parents. Enrollment in the cyber education program if the parent and student do not participate in the onboarding process and orientation.
Student-to-teacher ratios: Cyber education programs must maintain the following maximum student-to-teacher ratios for all core subjects — 25:1 at the elementary level, and 30:1 at the secondary level. The district may apply to the secretary of education for an exception to the required ratios. The secretary shall grant the exception if, in the discretion of the secretary, the proposed student-to-teacher ratio will not adversely impact the academic quality of the program.
Teacher of record: Each student enrolled in a cyber education program must be assigned a teacher of record who will oversee the student's overall cyber education and be the main point of contact for the student or parent, regardless of whether the teacher of record provides actual instruction to the student.
Certified professional staff: All professional staff members shall hold appropriate state certification.
School: If the district enrolls the lesser of at least 100 students or 20% of the total number of students enrolled in the district in full-time cyber education, the district shall establish a cyber education school. A school district may, at its discretion, establish a cyber education school if the school district does not meet the requirements of this subsection.
Parental communication: The district shall establish a method of communication with parents regarding the performance and progress of students enrolled in the cyber education program. Parent-teacher conferences may be conducted through electronic means.
Third-party vendors: Contracts with third-party vendors must include:
- duration of the service contract;
- roles and responsibilities of the vendor, including the governing authority and staff;
- scope of services, personnel and resources to be provided;
- salaries of the staff assigned to the full-time cyber programs;
- performance evaluation measures and timelines;
- compensation structure, including clear identification of all fees to be paid;
- methods of contract oversight and enforcement;
- methods for the collection, use, storage or sharing of student data by the vendor in compliance with federal and state laws; and
- conditions for renewal or termination of the
Publicly available information: Contracts must be posted on the school district's website. The local board of school directors must disclose and explain any potential conflicts of interest between the board and the vendor at a public meeting and post the disclosure on the school district's website.
Admission: All students are qualified for admission to the programs offered by the resident school district of the student. The district will develop an enrollment application form or utilize PDE’s model enrollment application form. Districts will provide parents with timely written notification of at least one open enrollment period for full-time students of 90 days or more which ends no later than 60 days before the first day of school. The district may permit enrollment in the programs after the open enrollment period.
Truancy: If a student is habitually truant, the school district shall withdraw the student from the cyber education programs and the student shall not be eligible to re-enroll in the cyber education programs for a period of two years. The school district shall provide an opportunity for the student or the parent to demonstrate that failure to participate in a cyber education program is due to an event that would be considered an excused absence.
PDE responsibilities: The department shall provide technical assistance and guidelines to school districts to help ensure quality cyber education programs. he guidelines shall include:
(1) best practices for operation of a full-time cyber education program;
(2) recommended third-party vendors to assist school districts in the implementation of this article;
(3) model enrollment and application forms;
(4) model attendance and truancy policies;
(5) model methodologies for the calculation of attendance;
(6) best practices related to special education and cyber education;
(7) available Federal, State or private grants available to develop or maintain cyber education programs; and
(8) any other information as determined by the department.
Report to Governor and General Assembly: PDE shall issue an annual report to the Governor and General Assembly beginning on or before October 30, 2022, and October 30 of each year thereafter. The annual report shall: (1) outline school district cyber education programs offered in this Commonwealth; (2) assess the trends and needs in school district cyber education programs; and (3) make recommendations regarding legislative or regulatory changes needed to improve cyber education.
State Board of Education: The State Board of Education must convene a Cyber Education Advisory Committee consisting of superintendents, school board members, and representatives from intermediate units, third-party vendors, and PDE to provide advice and guidance on cyber education. The State Board may also issue regulations necessary to implement this legislation.
Cyber charter schools: Existing cyber charter schools may continue to operate through the 2020-21 school year unless the charter of the cyber charter school is revoked or nonrenewed.
A cyber charter school must cease operation and dissolve at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year. After the disposition of any liabilities and obligations of the cyber charter school, any remaining assets of the cyber charter school, both real and personal, shall be distributed on a proportional basis to the school district with students enrolled in the cyber charter school. In no event shall the school district or the Commonwealth be liable for any outstanding liabilities or obligations of the cyber charter school.
Contract with school district: A cyber charter school in operation on the effective date of this legislation, unless revoked or nonrenewed, may contract with a school district or school districts to offer a full-time cyber education program as a nonprofit corporation.
The department shall not approve any cyber charter applications after the effective date of this legislation. Any pending applications for a cyber charter school shall be denied and new applications shall not be accepted. A charter school or regional charter school may not establish a full-time cyber education program.
Key components of the legislation include:
- School districts must offer full-time cyber education programs by the 2021-22 school year.
- To preserve school choice, school districts will be required to offer students with the choice to attend three different full-time cyber education programs.
- In order to participate in a full-time cyber program, students and parents must participate in an annual onboarding process and orientation.
- To ensure direct access to teachers, there are maximum student-to-teacher ratios for core subjects.
- All staff must be properly certified.
- If a certain number of students are enrolled in the cyber program, the school district must establish a cyber school for academic accountability purposes.
- The State Board of Education must convene a Cyber Education Advisory Committee consisting of superintendents, school board members, and representatives from intermediate units, third-party vendors, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to provide advice and guidance on cyber education.
- If a school district contracts with a third-party vendor, all information related to the contract is required to be posted on the district’s publicly available website.
- A public hearing must be held on a school district’s planned cyber education offerings.
PSBA had numerous concerns with the provisions of House Bill 1897:
- Accessibility to Internet connectivity, especially in rural areas of the state.
- New and extensive planning and annual reporting requirements require significant additional staff time and add to the already burdensome reporting requirements imposed on school districts.
- Numerous other unfunded mandates that eliminate flexibility and erode local control, including requirements for student-to-teacher ratios, a teacher of record for each enrolled student, and the need to establish a “cyber education school” as a separate entity if certain enrollment is met.
- Requirements to have two alternative programs from third-party vendors and concerns that programs from intermediate units and school districts are excluded from being able to provide alternative programs.
- Provisions regarding course options and levels could force school districts to pay for courses that do not have enough students interested or are not feasible to offer online.