MYERSTOWN, Pa. -- Kara and Cameo Lengeman don't have to worry about sharpening their pencils when test time arrives, but a good Internet connection is vital.
Kara, 11, and Cameo, 10, download their exams on the family's home computer. After completing the true/false or multiple-choice questions, they e-mail them off to be graded about 500 miles away.
"It's nice, because you can go at your own pace," said Kara, whose favorite subjects are history and language arts.
The girls became long-distance learners from their rural home about 30 miles east of Harrisburg in January, when they enrolled in the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. The 500-student, K-12 school based in Beaver County opened in September, one of two "cyber" charter schools in the state that deliver curriculum through the Internet.
More than 50 charter and public school cyber programs have been established in at least 30 states, according to the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. Other cyber charter schools include Horizon Instructional Systems in Lincoln, Calif., and Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio.
But the burgeoning movement has angered some Pennsylvania superintendents, who say they didn't know the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School existed until they received tuition bills in the mail.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and four school districts filed a lawsuit in April, alleging that cyber schools were never permitted under a 1997 law authorizing publicly funded, independently operated charter schools.
"Cyber schools are being shoehorned into the charter school law, and they just don't fit very well," association spokesman Thomas Gentzel said. "Most reasonable observers would agree that they're not being well-regulated."
The plaintiffs, which include the Butler Area, Cameron County, Mars Area and Pocono Mountain districts, argue they should not have to finance cyber schools whose charters they did not approve. Additionally, they say cyber schools may not meet compulsory attendance and instructional requirements.
The state Education Department has rejected the association's arguments, citing a charter school law provision that allows charter schools to enroll out-of-district students.
The Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is the prime target of administrators' wrath because it enrolls students from more than 100 districts scattered statewide. Tuition ranges from $5,000 to $11,000 per student, depending on the home district's per-pupil spending.
Pennsylvania's other cyber school, the 115-student SusQ-Cyber Charter School in Northumberland County, limits enrollment in grades 9-12 primarily to three participating school districts. Six other cyber schools are scheduled to open in the fall.
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