Brian Snyder  /  Reuters file
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in a Sept. 1 file photo.
updated 11/18/2004 4:10:40 PM ET 2004-11-18T21:10:40

Sen. Rick Santorum says he will pull his five school-age children out of an Internet-based school paid for by Pennsylvania taxpayers after coming under criticism because the family lives much of the time in Virginia.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Santorum said he and his wife would go back to home-schooling the youngsters, as they had done in the past.

A member of the Penn Hills school board, Erin Vecchio, said last week that the district has paid about $100,000 for the Santorums’ children to attend the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Santorum owns a two-bedroom home in Penn Hills, a Pittsburgh suburb, and a far more expensive home in Leesburg, Va.

Vecchio said Santorum has never lived in the school district, despite owning the home there. Santorum said his family splits time between Pennsylvania and the Washington area but said he has just been informed by the Penn Hills district that “only children who live in a community on a full-time basis” are eligible to be educated in the cyber school.

Vecchio, who is also head of the local Democratic committee, said she was thrilled with the senator’s decision, but still wants him to pay the district back.

“This is not political. This is a mother of three in a low-income school district,” Vecchio said Thursday.

In his statement, Santorum said his children had attended the school for four years, with the district’s approval, but the district had recently decided to review the case. Cyber school students access their assignments and teachers primarily through school Web sites using their own computers, which can be located anywhere.

Santorum sold his home in another Pittsburgh suburb, Mount Lebanon, and moved to Virginia in 1995, when he became a senator. The Santorums bought the small Penn Hills home in 1997 for $87,800, and it was assessed for $106,000 last year, records show. The couple’s home in Leesburg, Va., was assessed at $757,000 this year, tax records show.

Santorum said he and his wife, Karen, “believe it is important for our family to be with me when I am working in Washington; as I always say the most important job I have is as a husband and a father.”

Under Pennsylvania’s 2002 cyberschool law, the district in which a student lives must pay the cost of tuition for students enrolled in cyber charter schools.

The school superintendent in Penn Hills, Patricia Gennari, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

Santorum’s announcement was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday.

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