When the Quakertown School District discussed starting its own cyber and alternative schools, the goal was two-fold: give students more flexibility in their education and save money.

It seems the district has succeeded on both fronts.

In its first full year, the high school cyber program and two alternative academies cost more than $1 million to run. But through these programs, the district was able to save more than $1.5 million and actually earned $1.2 million in revenue.

That’s the kind of news the school board likes to hear.

“The question was is it cost-effective? It certainly seems like it is,” said board member Paul Stepanoff.

On Thursday, board members reviewed the 2009-10 inaugural year figures for the Infinity Cyber Academy, Options Academy and Upper Bucks Ombudsman Academy.
Much of the savings comes from bringing students, who had been attending other cyber or alternative schools, back into the district.

By law, school districts must pay the tuition for students within their borders who attend charter, cyber charter, and alternative schools elsewhere. But it is often cheaper to educate these students in-house.

In the 2009-10 year, 91 students attended the Infinity Cyber Academy, including approximately 21 students who returned to Quakertown from other cyber charters.

Officials estimate the district saved $275,000. It can cost $11,000 per year in tuition for a regular education student to attend an outside cyber school and $22,000 for a special education student.

Of the 91 students enrolled, about one-third took a full load of online courses. The rest engaged in a mixture of cyber and traditional classes. The cyber program offered 317 courses and used Quakertown teachers who were already on staff.

In its inaugural year, 37 students attended Options Academy. Housed at Quakertown High School, the academy offers an alternative setting to help students who have fallen behind in credits, are truant or need more individualized attention.

Of the 37 students enrolled, 13 returned to Quakertown from outside alternative schools, where tuition can cost between $100 and $146 per student per day, or more than $23,000 per year.

Quakertown saved nearly $860,000 with the program.

Additionally, six students who had dropped out of school returned through Options Academy.

“It is always a win-win when you can do something in a cost-effective manner and meet the needs of a diverse (student body),” said board member Kathy Mosley.

Quakertown is also housing the Upper Bucks Ombudsman Academy, an alternative school run by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit.

The academy accommodates expelled students from Quakertown, Palisades, Pennridge, and New Hope. Through this program, Quakertown saved more than $441,000.

The $1 million expense of running the three programs includes staffing, software contracts, and start-up costs such as computers and other equipment.
On the revenue side, the district received more than $1 million in stimulus and state grant money, as well as $75,000 in rent for housing the Ombudsman Academy.

This school year, Quakertown has expanded its cyber program by offering an elementary and middle school version. To date, one elementary school student and 24 middle school students are enrolled.

From the Philadelphia Intelligencer