Indictment Exposes Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Scam

Last week as parents of children in the School District of Philadelphia marched to protest the bare bones budget that will force school to open without co-curricular activities, the arts, nurses, or even secretaries in many buildings, and as the city of Philadelphia has agreed to borrow by selling $50 million in general obligation bonds just to make it possible for the school year to start on time, Philadelphia’s school superintendent, William Hite, publicly addressed the challenges posed by Pennsylvania’s poorly regulated charter schools that suck money out of the budgets of the public school districts.

Here is what Philadelphia’s superintendent said in a public statement:  “In this time of crisis and uncertainty within District-run schools, the District is also recommending a series of suspensions that will allow for better management of charter school funding, expansions and monitoring, primarily through mutually agreed-upon growth plans…   Given the structure of the school code, unmanaged, self-directed charter school growth could force the District into a perpetual deficit.”

While in some states charter schools are funded solely through state allocations, Hite was acknowledging that one reason public school districts across Pennsylvania are broke is that in Pennsylvania local school districts must make per-child tuition payments to charter schools including payments to the virtual schools, many of them for-profit companies, that spend less and keep huge profits.

According to the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Education there are twelve cyber-charters currently operating in the state.  Nationwide the companies that manage the virtual academies accrue huge profits from public tax dollars. These are the schools where students study at home over the internet.  Virtual schools need not be fully staffed of course, nor do they need to provide bus transportation.  Nationwide, virtual schools are troubled by high turnover of students and much lower graduation rates than traditional public schools.

Diane Ravitch recently reported  that Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, was indicted last week by federal authorities on 11 fraud and tax charges.  The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter with 10,000 students and annual revenues exceeding  $100 million.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Nicholas Trombetta, former CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, has been charged with diverting more than $8 million of taxpayer money away from the school for a condo, airplane, and other expenses.”  According to the Pittsburgh Post – Gazette, “Mr. Trombetta … is accused of creating entity after entity, ultimately controlling what prosecutors said was an intricate web of interlocking businesses whose purpose was to enrich himself, his sister and various associates.”

Despite that privatization of public education has been sold as the way to innovate and cheaply improve performance, again and again we learn that public schools with democratic oversight by an elected board of education are the surest way to ensure that all children have access to the educational programming to which they have a right. In Pennsylvania right now we are watching public school districts divert urgently needed tax dollars to poorly regulated, for-profit, on-line charters whose costs to the public are proving enormous.

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4 thoughts on “Indictment Exposes Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Scam

  1. Jan, It early Monday AM and you are blogging away….Keep up the good work! Prophet must scream at Kings in order to get them to hear! Your fan, Ron Hooker

  2. I spent a few days in Philadelphia this week. Large bill boards were up all over town, video ads in the movie theatre, and television ads for “free” K12 online “public” schools. I’ve poked around on the web a bit. Looks like a major for profit company doing business in many states. The leadership is McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Booth School of Business types. Meanwhile teachers and parents are in the streets trying to save some semblance of a true public system. Pretty disgusting.

  3. Pingback: Indictment Exposes Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Scam | janresseger ← NPE News Briefs

  4. Pingback: Indictment Exposes Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Scam | PAChurchesAdvocacy.org

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