It's a simple statement that likely would cause a York County superintendent to shudder.
"You just cannot beat what Commonwealth Connections has to offer."
That's what Melissa Henry, a Dover parent of two sixth-graders, said about the cyber charter school her children have been enrolled in for the past three years.
Commonwealth Connections is the most popular cyber charter in York County in terms of enrollment. And Henry's comment sums up what most district officials are worried about, as they are trying everything to prevent students from attending cyber charters and instead funnel them toward their own cyber programs.
That's the ongoing battle in the ever-evolving enrollment game to attract York County students interested in online learning.
On one side, it's cyber charter schools, which have grown rapidly in popularity. Those officials are quick to tout their advanced software, field trips and student get-togethers, and gradually increasing test scores as signs their model works.
On the other side, it's superintendents, quick to say most cyber charters don't meet state standards on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, that cyber charters charge twice as much in tuition as it costs to educate the same student in a district-run cyber school, and the cyber schools have fewer state mandates to meet.
Several superintendents said they believe there's not nearly enough oversight of the online charters, although the cyber schools are subject to No Child Left Behind.
And some students eager to try online learning have jumped at the more heavily marketed cyber charter school first, only to come back disappointed, said Jared Mader, director of technology at Red Lion.
"Once they get into the program ... they have an epiphany that this is not what I was hoping for," Mader said.
Enough for everyone: The enrollment competition might be a win-win, though.
The pool of potential students appears to be growing every year, with more students opting to get virtual schooling, according to a York Dispatch analysis of enrollment totals of cyber charters and the newer cyber schools run by districts.
District-run cyber programs have proliferated in school districts trying to cut down on costs and have a better control on academics, but that hasn't prevented cyber charters from growing at the same time.
In the past five years, several of the cyber schools most popular with York County students have grown greatly in local enrollment.
Pennsylvania Cyber School grew from 174 York County students in the 2006-07 school year to 414 this year. 21st Century more than doubled in that time period, with 72 York County students this year.
And Commonwealth Connections sprouted from 96 students in 2006-07 to 484 students this year, about 400 percent growth.
Statewide, about 30,000 students are enrolled in one of the state's 13 cyber charter schools, double the number from five years ago.
The 'future'? District cyber programs are relatively new, and so they don't have a track record for enrollment. Still, most districts have at least some students enrolled in their cyber program, most of which were rolled out last year or this year.
Dover's program, at 3 years old, is the veteran in the county and is now up to 66 students. That's in part because Dover officials do what they can to attract students considering a cyber charter to instead enroll in Dover's program.
"When we hear wind of anyone thinking about it, we spend time with them," said Superintendent Robert Krantz.
Cyber schools have more money for ads, he said, making competition difficult. But Dover can offer what Krantz believes is a more rigorous program, and it's local, so teachers are right there to help students face-to-face.
Most school districts either contract with the Lincoln Intermediate Unit educational agency to provide an online school or use their own teachers to provide it.
Others, such as South Western and West York, are toeing the water in considering a cyber program but haven't made any plans.
"That's the future, I think," said South Western Superintendent Barbara Rupp.
Red Lion's Mader said he's seeing students going for a hybrid traditional-online model, giving them some flexibility. Red Lion, which has 28 online students, uses its own teachers as tutors.
That hometown connection is a distinct difference.
"They know these families. They know these students," Mader said.
Ahead of the game: Cyber charter officials said their advantage in drawing students is specialization.
Districts don't specialize in cyber schooling, and when they start their own program, parents might feel like it's solely to retain students rather than a great option, said Carolyn Fell, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.
"A lot of (districts) are doing cyber school in a box type of thing," Fell said.
"They are starting where we were years ago," added Fred Miller, spokesman of Pennsylvania Cyber, where enrollment is approaching 11,000 students.
Henry, the mother of two Commonwealth Connections students, agreed that cyber charters are further along.
Her son, Timothy, is a learning support student, and Henry said he was falling behind when he was in a traditional elementary school in Dover Area School District. Now he's catching up.
"We are in contact with teachers all the time. We get much more attention personally, believe it or not, than the teachers in the brick-and-mortar schools," Henry said. "It's a complete school. You feel a part of the classroom."
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or email@example.com, or on Twitter @ydblogwork.com.