Archives for category: Pennsylvania

A few days ago, I posted warnings about the stealth effort to expand charter schools in Pennsylvania, embedded in a bill called HB530. Exposed to daylight and to the righteous wrath of parents and school boards, the bill failed.

Good work by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), teachers, and people who understand the importance of public schools managed to kill HB530, which was a sugarplum for the rapacious charter industry.

Here is a report from the PSBA:

Thanks to a tremendous effort made by current and retired school directors and many other public school advocates, charter school expansion legislation under House Bill 530 (Rep. Reese, R-Westmoreland) was stopped in its tracks. As the 2015-16 session winds to a close, the bill will die.

This accomplishment could not have been possible without your efforts. Over the past two weeks advocates responded to our call to action and generated more than 2,000 email messages, 300 calls and texts, and multiple Twitter and Facebook posts all in an effort to oppose the legislation. With multiple indications that the bill was geared up to be considered by the House of Representatives, PSBA was a leader in pointing out the serious flaws in the legislation.

House Bill 530 purported to be charter school “reform” that actually did little to provide real change in the way charter schools are operated, funded or held accountable. Instead, it enabled the expansion of charter schools with less accountability and oversight, and actually diluted existing powers of oversight by local school boards while costing them millions of dollars.

PSBA agrees that the need for genuine reform to the state’s outdated Charter School Law is long overdue. In fact, throughout this legislative session, PSBA was working with members in the Senate and House of Representatives in hopes of clarifying and addressing many of our concerns.

It’s been suggested that PSBA has made inaccurate and misleading claims about House Bill 530. PSBA would like to set the record straight. Make no mistake – school boards are very serious about charter school accountability. House Bill 530 does not strengthen accountability and does not contain significant, reasonable reform or relief from increasing charter school costs.

Pennsylvania became an ATM for the charter industry under Republican Governor Tom Corbett. He is gone now, but the legislature remains indebted to the fat, happy charter owners. Many public school districts are on the brink of bankruptcy due to the rapacious charters that snare their students with deceptive advertising. Pennsylvania has more virtual charter schools than any other state, despite the fact that study after study (including one by CREDO, funded by the Daltons) has shown that virtual charters are educational disaster zones. Students who enroll in them don’t learn anything, but the virtual charter industry is rolling in dough. Two different virtual charter leaders have been indicted for theft in Pennsylvania; one admitted stealing millions of dollars, the other saw her trial dismissed because of age and infirmity but was indicted for theft of millions.

Into this land of struggling public schools and thriving charters comes a new legislative plot to privatize and monetize public school funding. It is called HB530. Under the (usual) guise of “reform,” the bill would open the door to the vaults that hold taxpayer money meant for children and welcome the charters to help themselves.

HB530 is a blank check for a rapacious, greedy industry.

Lawrence Feinberg of the Keystone State Education Coalition wrote this post, “20 Reasons to Vote No on PA HB530.”

Here are a few of his reasons:

Pennsylvania taxpayers now spend more than $1.4 billion on charter and cyber charter schools annually, in addition to funding the state’s traditional public schools. The current “rob from public school Peter to pay charter school Paul” system drains money from traditional public schools, forcing districts to cut programs and services for the students who remain. In 2011, the charter reimbursement line was eliminated from the state budget. It provided state funding to districts for the costs and financial exposure resulting from the addition of charter schools.

Legislators are now considering House Bill 530, which would bring much-needed reform to the charter school law that was written in 1997. The bill has several helpful provisions, but the harm that it does far outweighs the good. Here are 20 reasons that the legislature should vote against this measure.

#HB530 does not provide significant accountability to taxpayers for payments made to charter school entities.

#HB530 would create a Charter School Funding Commission that would consider establishing an independent state-level board to authorize charter school entities, bypassing any local decision-making by school boards and their communities.

#HB530 further limits the ability of communities to negotiate the role of charters locally. The decisions about how, when, and where to expand them should be made by those who have the information and expertise to do so in ways that improve education.

#HB530 is an entirely unwarranted intervention in the local governance of school districts. It would remove local control of tax dollars from Pennsylvania taxpayers and their elected school directors.

#HB530 sets no limits to money that charters can drain from local school districts, eliminating districts’ capability to plan and budget.

#HB530 is a vehicle for the Pennsylvania legislature to have local taxpayers pay for unlimited charter expansion.

#HB530 would let charter operators expand and add grades without any local input or authorization, regardless of performance.

#HB530 would let charters expand by enrolling students from outside of the district in which it is located.

If you want to save public education in Pennsylvania, contact your legislators now.

Lawrence Feinberg, a veteran school board member and head of the Keystone State Education Coalition, warns here that the charter industry is trying to slip a bill through the legislature that would vastly expand charters while reducing accountability.

Pennsylvania currently has one of the most corrupt charter sectors in the nation. The number of prosecutions for theft and misappropriation of funds is rivaled only by the rapacious charter industry in Ohio.

But the charter industry wants more charters and less regulation.

Feinberg warns that HB 530 is a trick on the public and a treat for the charter lobby.

“With only a few days left on the legislative calendar, lawmakers are trying to push through charter expansion with HB 530. Those in favor are dressing it up in the best costume they have and passing it off as charter school reform. It is anything but. The state’s most recent School Performance Profile scores show that only 22 percent of charters achieved a score of 70 or higher, the level that state education officials view as acceptable. So why are legislators so quick to allow unchecked expansion of these schools, wasting of tax dollars?

“There are many good charter schools out there. They serve as a valuable piece of the education puzzle in our state. But the lack of accountability and transparency is something that taxpayers should not tolerate. If HB 530 becomes law, charters would be able to ignore enrollment caps, hold higher fund balances than their traditional school counterparts, open schools in more than one location without permission from the authorizing entity, and avoid participating in the state evaluation system for teachers and principals required of other schools.

“Authors of HB 530 also made sure to stack the decks in favor of charters through a new Charter School Funding Advisory Commission that the bill creates. The purpose of the commission is to explore issues related to charter schools and make recommendations. Its members include representatives from charter schools, the secretary of education, legislators and members chosen by legislators, and school business managers. Oddly, school directors who are charged with authorizing charter schools (and who are responsible for raising local revenue from their neighbors to support education) have no seat on the commission. Also, the current six-member Charter School Appeal Board is expanded to nine. Two of the three new positions are reserved for charter school administrators and trustees.

“As schools consolidate and populations continue to drop, many schools are finding that they need to shut down school buildings. Currently, schools can work within certain parameters to sell or lease these buildings. HB 530 requires schools to first offer these buildings to charters on first right of refusal, simply ignoring the wishes of the local taxpayers who paid for these buildings and may have other desired uses for them.

“One final concern I wish to mention is a new performance matrix created by HB 530 that would be used to measure the academic performance of charter schools and to assess renewal terms. This matrix is the only measure that may be used by school boards for evaluating charter schools. In current law, charters can be revoked for poor academic performance. Additionally, under case law, if a charter school does not meet specific, measurable academic benchmarks required under federal law, it may be subject to charter revocation if the sending school districts are performing better. House Bill 530 eliminates the ability to compare charter schools and their sending school districts and undermines the original intent of the Charter School Law to create schools that provide something above and beyond what is provided by traditional public schools. Oh, and guess who creates this matrix? The previously mentioned commission that is weighted in favor of charter school representatives.”

Call your representative. Stop HB 530.

Peter Greene writes about a ruling in Pennsylvania that protects the privacy rights of teachers. The public does not have a right to know where teachers live, i.e., their home addresses. Sounds simple, no?

Today, when there are so many challenges to privacy, this is a ruling that is heartening.

Now, we need parents willing to challenge the right of school districts to agree to the data mining of their students without parental consent.

And parents who will sue when the district gives the names and addresses of their students to charter chains in search of students.

Just in. A protest against a “Chancellor” who refuses to negotiate, who served as Jeb Bush’s lieutenant governor, who has no academic qualifications, and who was brought in to defund the state university system.

Dear Comrades,

I am emailing you all because as of 5 am this morning, the faculty of the entire Pennsylvania State University System went on strike. Our faculty union, APSCUF, represents more than 7,000 faculty at all 14 state universities, and this strike will affect more than 100,000 students. Picket lines begin at 7 am this morning, and we seek your support.

APSCUF faculty have been working without a contract for more than a year (477 days). APSCUF has been trying very hard to negotiate a fair contract, but the PASSHE System, led by Chancellor Frank Brogan, have repeatedly turned away from negotiations, and then, after nearly a year, they proposed 249 contractual changes, many of which undermine academic quality. The State System wants to cut the pay of our lowest paid professors; increase their powers to retrench any faculty member of any rank; and it has demanded tens of millions of dollars in givebacks from the faculty, especially in terms of health care coverage and costs, and reductions in professional development and sabbaticals.

The situation is complex, as would any contract affecting so many people. But there is a simple and familiar side to this story. Frank Brogan was appointed by our previous Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, a Republican who sought to defund and privatize public higher education as much as possible. Prior to his appointment as Chancellor, Brogan (who has never taught in higher education) served as Lieutenant Governor for Jeb Bush in Florida.

Our current Governor Tom Wolfe supports the faculty, and he has requested that the State System continue to negotiate, but the Chancellor has defied these requests.

Please visit the APSCUF web site where many more details are available, and you can sign a petition to tell the State System to settle a fair contract: We also request that you email our Chancellor Frank Brogan at to tell the State System to negotiate a fair contract and to care about the quality of education.

Thank your for your support.

Since I am unable to use my IUP email address by which I am registered on this list, I am grateful that my friend, Jeff Williams, is distributing this message. I can be reached on my gmail account.

In solidarity,

David Downing
English Department
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The phony Relay Graduate School of Education” has received authorization from several state willing to make a mockery of graduate study in education. Few, if any, of the “faculty” have doctorates. Relay consists of charter teachers giving faux master’s degrees to other charter teachers, without a library,nwithout scholars, without research. Lest we forget, “scholars” are little children, not people who have devoted their lives to study of a field.

Mercedes Scheider reports good news. Pennsylvania said “scram” to Relay. No phony graduate schools wanted. Beat it. You are not wanted in the Keystone State. Those of us who worked years for our degrees say, “Thank you, Pennsylvania!”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association conducted a study of costs, comparing charter schools and public schools, and concluded that the charter schools have higher salaries for those at the top and spend twice as much on administration as public schools.

Furthermore, the bulk of their revenue–as much as 84%–is taken away from public schools, leaving them in worse condition.

Charter-school administrative expenditures are nearly double those of conventional public schools, and their highest-ranking officials are paid far more.

They spend less on instruction than school districts, but more on support services and facilities.

And while charter-school enrollment has jumped significantly over time, payments to the schools are far outpacing their actual rates of growth in admission.

All that is according to a report on Pennsylvania’s charter schools issued Thursday by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, made up of nearly 4,500 school board members.

In a 35-page study that came after rounds of records requests during the last 15 months, the conclusions present a broad picture of Pennsylvania’s 173 charter schools, which have become part of an ongoing national debate about what effect the charter-school movement is having on traditional public schools.

“This is not intended to be any sort of an attack on charter schools,” said Andrew Christ, education policy analyst for the organization, during a conference call Thursday.

But, he said, “charter schools need to be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.”

Jersey Jazzman reports on what competition does to schools and communities. A new charter school in Bethlehem, PA., is recruiting students from the public schools by sending out mailers claiming that students who enroll in the charter school will be safe from drug dealers in the public school. Really.

A promotional mailer claiming to be from a new Catasauqua charter school paints Liberty High School students as drug users, sparking outrage among many Bethlehem residents.

Innovative Arts Academy Charter School denies it had anything to do with sending out the promotional mailer, which lists the school’s return address.

The postcard references the September 2015 drug arrest of a 17-year-old Liberty student and asks “Why worry about this type of student at school? Come visit Arts Academy Charter School. Now enrolling grades 6-12.”

It shows a stock image of a teenager holding their head in their hands and reprints a Morning Call headline: “Teen busted by Liberty HS officials with more than $3,000 of heroin, cocaine.”

Nothing like using defamation to recruit new students.

The school insisted it was not responsible for the mailer. The CEO of the charter school resigned.

Outsiders were wondering about the role of the real estate developer, who not only owned the building in which the charter was located, but loaned the charter $100,000.

Was it “all about the kids?”

The annals of competition.

Calling John Oliver! The charter lobbyists have been criticizing Oliver for his expose of charter fraud last Sunday. Unfair, they say. Untrue, they say. Slanders charters, they say. Let’s see how they fit this story into their narrative.

Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, pleaded guilty to stealing $8 million from the school and diverting it for his personal use. Trombetta’s school was often featured on television as the nation’s first virtual charter. With an enrollment of 10,000 students from across the state, Trometta had receipts of $100 million a year. What to do with all that dough rolling in from taxpayers?

I have written about this scandal on several occasions, from the time Trombetta was charged in 2013. (See hereand here and here. Another cyber charter leader in Pennsylvania, June Brown, who ran the K-12 Agora Charter, was arrested and charged with stealing $6 million.

The Associated Press reports:

“PITTSBURGH (AP) — The founder and former CEO of an online public school that educates thousands of Pennsylvania students pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal tax fraud, acknowledging he siphoned more than $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School through for-profit and nonprofit companies he controlled.

“In entering his plea, Nicholas Trombetta, 61, who headed the school, acknowledged using the money to buy, among other things, a Bonita Springs, Florida, condominium for $933,000, pay $180,000 for houses for his mother and girlfriend in Ohio, and spend $990,000 more on groceries and other items.

“He manipulated companies he created and controlled to draw the money from the school, also spending it on a $300,000 plane, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said.

“Trombetta was making $127,000 to $144,000 annually at PA Cyber when he ran the illegal tax evasion scheme from 2006 to 2012. He faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 20.

“By running the money through the companies or their straw owners, Trombetta avoided income taxes, though prosecutors haven’t said how much. Most of the siphoned money was squirreled away in Avanti Management Group, which functioned as Trombetta’s retirement savings account, Kaufman said.

“This case reflects the priority we’ve placed on protecting against fraud in education,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

“The school, founded in Midland in 2000, had more than 11,000 students across the state when Trombetta was charged three years ago and still has more than 9,000. As a public institution, it’s funded by federal, state and local taxes. Districts across the state pay the school to educate any students who opt to enroll in PA Cyber instead of a bricks-and-mortar school.

“Trombetta almost didn’t plead guilty Wednesday when his attorney, Adam Hoffinger, began sparring with Kaufman, who had to describe the complicated conspiracy to the judge.

“Kaufman said Trombetta used Avanti, the National Network of Digital Schools and other companies in the scheme. The Network of Digital Schools markets a curriculum developed in conjunction with PA Cyber and sold it back to the school, while Avanti provided unspecified management services, the prosecutor said. Avanti had four owners who pretended to be equal 25 percent partners when, in reality, Trombetta owned 80 percent of the firm, Kaufman said.”

The State Auditor in Pennsylvania decided to take a look at the ties between charter schools and the buildings they rent or lease. He found several that are renting space from the charter school’s owner, which is forbidden in state law. This is actually one of the most lucrative and overlooked aspect of the charter scam: The charter owner buys a building, opens a school, and charges high rent, which he pays to one of his shell corporations.

Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog on Wednesday questioned millions of public dollars paid to charter school landlords and called for the state to more closely monitor such lease payments.

At a news conference, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale highlighted more than $2.5 million in lease reimbursements to nine charter schools, including the Propel Charter School System in Allegheny County, the Chester Community Charter School in Delaware County and School Lane Charter School in Bucks County.

Without offering details, Mr. DePasquale said his office found ties between the schools and their property owners that could contradict state guidelines that deem buildings owned by a charter school ineligible for lease reimbursement.

“What we found in some of our audits is that the same people who own and operate charter schools, they themselves create separate legal entities to own the buildings and lease them to charter schools,” Mr. DePasquale said.

Pennsylvania enjoys the dubious distinction of having the most permissive charter laws in the nation, one that enables profiteers to score big without regulation or oversight. Pennsylvania is home of about 16 cyber-charters, which are known for their woeful performance. CREDO reported in 2011 that the virtual charters were the worst-performing of all types of schools in the state. In addition, two virtual charter operators were charged with fraud, including the founder of Pennsylvania’s first cyber-charter school, which had annual revenues of $100 million.

Under former Republican Governor Tom Corbett, the charter industry was given free rein to expand and exploit the taxpayers of the state. At one point, the Secretary of Education was a former executive of Michael Milken’s K12 Inc., the online virtual charter that has received numerous negative reviews by researchers.

The current Auditor General wants to get to the bottom of the real estate scam:

He said the education department in about 2010 asked the Auditor General’s Office to review such connections, and that the auditor’s staff has done so.

“We keep finding it and supplying the information to the department, and they do nothing with it,” he said.

Mr. DePasquale made a similar call for scrutiny in March 2013, when he said that audits of six charter schools found they had improperly received more than $550,000 in lease reimbursements from the state for properties related to or owned by the schools. It was not clear if that money was ever repaid.

Pittsburgh’s counsel agreed that oversight is nearly non-existent:

Ira Weiss, solicitor for Pittsburgh Public Schools, said the district agrees with the auditor general’s concerns about lease reimbursements.

“These schools are paid millions in tax dollars with little or no oversight by PDE,” Mr. Weiss said. “It is more evidence that the charter school law, one of the most permissive in the nation, needs a complete overhaul.”