Thursday, January 31, 2019

We told you to keep an eye on Pennsylvania

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 27, 2019
Unlike brick-and-mortar charters which are authorized and overseen by school districts, cyber charters are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Department officials have offered no good reason why they have failed to properly renew or remove the state’s cyber charters, which include three in Philadelphia that enroll 591 students. That would be bad in any circumstance – especially following a year where the head of one large cyber charter was sentenced to jail for siphoning $8 million from a cyber school — but research consistently finds that cyber schools are less effective than traditional district schools. This costly entry into the educational landscape cost over $463 million in 2016-17 alone; $68 million was spent on Philadelphia cybers. The charter law grants cybers as much money per pupil as brick and mortar schools, a point that Auditor General Eugene Depasquale blasted in a scathing audit of the charter law in 2014.

We've been on the PA charter beat for a while now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

“I can no longer accept cash in bags in a Pizza Hut parking lot” -- time to add Pennsylvania to the list

In an article entitled READING, WRITING, RANSACKING, Charles P. Pierce makes me think that I haven't been spending nearly enough time looking at education reform in the Keystone State. The quote from the title comes Pierce's account of the federal investigation of former Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School leader Nick Trombetta:
The bags of cash, a private plane bough by Avanti but used mostly by Trombetta, a Florida vacation home and a home in Mingo Junction, Ohio, for Trombetta’s former girlfriend all were described as perks enjoyed by Trombetta as part of a scheme to siphon money from taxpayers’ funds sent to PA Cyber for more than four years.
The case is actually small time compared to the other scandals going on in the state, but you have to admit it's a great quote.

A bigger and much more familiar scandal is the lack of accountability:
For reasons that aren't clear, millions of dollars have moved between the network of charter schools, their parent nonprofit and two property-management entities. The School District is charged with overseeing city charters, but "does not have the power or access to the financial records of the parent organization," according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "We cannot conduct even limited financial audits of the parent organization." That's despite the fact that charters account for 30 percent of the District's 2013-'14 budget. Aspira declined to comment. The $3.3 million that the four brick-and-mortar charters apparently have loaned to Aspira are in addition to $1.5 million in lease payments to Aspira and Aspira-controlled property-management entities ACE and ACE/Dougherty, and $6.3 million in administrative fees paid to Aspira in 2012. 
Add to that some extraordinarily nasty state politics involving approval-challenged Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, the state-run Philadelphia School Reform Commission (which has a history of making teachers' lives difficult basically for the fun of it) and a rather suspicious poll:
"With Governor Corbett's weak job approval, re-elect and ballot support numbers, the current Philadelphia school crisis presents an opportunity for the Governor to wedge the electorate on an issue that is favorable to him," the poll concludes. "Staging this battle presents Corbett with an opportunity to coalesce his base, focus on a key emerging issue in the state, and campaign against an 'enemy' that's going to aggressively oppose him in '14 in any case."
I don't know enough about Pennsylvania politics to competently summarize this, let alone intelligently comment on it but it's difficult to imagine an interpretation that makes things looks good.

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