By Rick Morrison
Several hundred students and parents affiliated with PA Families for Cyber Schools held an outdoor rally at the Capitol today and recognized several legislators for their contributions to supporting the cyber schools movement.
Jenny Bradmon, President of PA Families for Cyber Schools told the group that urban, rural, poor and affluent students have all benefited from cyber schools. "Our day here at the Capitol is evidence of our commitment to these innovative public schools, which have the ability and the flexibility to educate a range of students – some with special needs – who otherwise could not be accommodated by traditional public schools," Bradmon commented. "Despite what our critics may say, they also are accountable and are held to the same standards of achievement and regulation as any other public school in Pennsylvania. Cyber schools also offer parity in education as no other schools can. Public cyber school students have the same opportunity at the same education."
Rose Fernandez, President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, told the group the same advocacy for cyber schools needed in Pennsylvania had already taken place in Wisconsin, in an effort to re-establish cyber schools. In response to a suit filed by the public school teacher’s union in Wisconsin, families from all over the state gathered at that state’s capitol in Madison to tell legislators how important cyber schools are to the parents and students in that Midwestern state. The Department of Public Instruction originally favored virtual public schools, as they are known in Wisconsin. However, they eventually switched sides and closed the schools and removed funding for them in response to the teachers’ union lawsuit. Several court appeals later, however, and through grass-roots parental pressure, the legislature in Wisconsin listened and restored the virtual schools there. "We went toe-to-toe with the mighty special interests," Fernandez said. The parents made the case that cyber schools are a sound alternative to traditional bricks-and-mortar schools and they were re-established.
Fernandez said she was encouraged by the large turnout at this second annual rally held by PA Families for Public Cyber Schools. This is a national effort, she continued and noted that Pennsylvania is a leader in the cyber schools movement. She encouraged all those in attendance to tell anyone why their children are doing well and that cyber schools are a complement, not a threat, to public education.
Rep. Bill DeWeese (D-Greene), House Majority Leader, said it is important for anyone interested in public education to listen to the arguments of cyber school proponents. "Studying and learning and attempting to make a better opportunity for youngsters in our state is, in itself, a very aggressive declaration of our democracy," Rep. DeWeese said. He noted that he wanted to learn more about cyber schools. "The nuances and aggressive efforts of your goals are something that I will continue to watch over to the degree that I can with our education committee and our leadership team," he added.
Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-Berks) said that as a father of six, he hasn’t always enrolled his children in cyber schools, but he and his wife began home-schooling them at an early age. "There is nothing that surpasses the involvement of parents who care, who are willing to sacrifice time and schedules to be invested heavily in the education of their children," Rep. Rohrer said. "When you stand up and speak about cyber school education, you can speak with passion, conviction and demonstration that it works. I will continue to work to make sure the opportunities are not restricted, but are enhanced."
Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith (D-Chester) noted that she has visited several cyber schools in her district and the Pennsylvania Virtual School in Norristown. She added that students will have many careers in their lives and their early education will help to shape those careers. "Learning is not a one-size-fits-all experience," she said. "There are 12 cyber charter schools with 10,000 students in them in Pennsylvania and they are learning how to learn independently, not with someone looking over their shoulder all the time. These schools are important because the curriculum is designed to fit the student, not the other way around."
Bradmon presented her organization’s first-ever Cyber Leadership Award trophies to Rep. DeWeese, Rep. Rohrer, Rep. McIlvaine Smith. Senator Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin), also an award recipient, was not on hand to accept his award.
For more information on PA Families for Cyber Schools, visit their website at www.pacyberfamilies.org