Monday, July 16, 2012

Millions flow to Beaver County-based PA Cyber School's spinoffs

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Millions flow to Beaver County-based PA Cyber School's spinoffs
July 15, 2012 12:04 am
By Rich Lord and Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Beaver County-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which was searched by federal agents Thursday, pays tens of millions of dollars a year to a network of nonprofit and for-profit companies run by former executives of the state's largest online public school.
The relationships between the school and those businesses were a concern to former Gov. Ed Rendell's administration, which late in its tenure asked PA Cyber for better accounting of its payments to spin-off entities. Gov. Tom Corbett's Department of Education, though, opted early on to let the relationships continue without heightened accountability.

Tax records disclose cyber school’s odd deal with nonprofit
By Bill Vidonic Trib Live Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, where federal agents served a search warrant this week, gave away its copyrighted curriculum to a nonprofit that now earns millions of dollars each year by selling it back to PA Cyber and other schools, according to tax records.
PA Cyber, the state’s largest cyber school with more than 11,000 students, received more than $102 million in federal, state and local funding last year.
The links between PA Cyber and the nonprofit National Network of Digital Schools in Beaver County are numerous, but all of them can be traced back to Nick Trombetta, who founded both entities. Trombetta could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Agents from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Education served search warrants or subpoenas on Thursday at NNDS and PA Cyber, and at other sites tied to the school in Pennsylvania and Ohio. A statement from the federal Department of Justice said the school is not the target of an investigation.

Posted: Mon, Jul. 16, 2012, 3:01 AM
Suburban school budgets look slightly better than last year's
By Dan Hardy Inquirer Staff Writer
Parents and taxpayers in the Pennsylvania suburbs are likely to find slightly better news in the newly passed 2012-13 school district budgets than in last year's.
The 2011-12 spending plans inflicted serious pain on many of the 63 districts in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Cuts hit classrooms hard, as a big drop in state aid and declining local tax revenue took their toll. Taxes were raised, on average, 2.3 percent.
For the coming year, tax increases average 1.95 percent in the budgets that boards passed by the June 30 deadline.

16 of 43 school districts in Allegheny County hike taxes
Cuts in employees, programs also used to balance budgets
July 15, 2012 12:50 am
By Eleanor Chute and Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
More than a third of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County raised property taxes for the new fiscal year while those districts and others turned to furloughs, program cuts and withdrawals from savings to balance budgets.
Many of the tax increases for 2012-13 come in the more affluent districts, although there are exceptions.

Difficult lessons learned: Delco School boards face tough budget decisions
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012
By TIMOTHY LOGUE @timothylogue
Well before he was selected to fill a vacancy on the Marple Newtown School Board, Jim Lanzalotto began to get a feel for the limitations of the job.
“One thing you realize is that their hands are tied in many instances, whether because of the state and federal mandates they have to adhere to or the amount of money that is tied up in salary and benefits,” he said.

Education Policy and Leadership Center
EPLC Education Notebook Friday, July 13, 2012

Final 2012-13 Budget Analysis: Failing to Invest in a Stronger Pa. Economy
PA Budget and Policy Center July 13, 2012
The General Assembly has enacted a 2012-13 state budget that restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett to public schools, universities and other services, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses. Although the state ended the year with a $649 million fund balance, the budget fails to make the investments that are essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.
Overall spending, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal. Still, the final budget remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. Compared to 2010-11, this budget cuts spending by 1.4%, with public schools, higher education, environmental protection and economic development taking the biggest hits.

School district issues on menu at Pennsylvania Economy League breakfast
By Mary Young Reading Eagle 7/13/12
Dr. Dave Davare, director of research for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, addresses a breakfast meeting of the Pennsylvania Economy League on Thursday at the Berkshire Country Club.  Hot issues for school districts haven't changed much in the last 30 years, the director of research for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association told about 40 people at a Pennsylvania Economy League breakfast Thursday.
Tax reform, state funding, pensions and mandates are on the list, Dr. Dave Davare said.
Added to it, he said, are prevailing wages for building projects; charter and online school funding; and pay-to-play fees charged to students who play sports or participate in other school activities outside the classroom.
To address the issues, votes are needed from 102 of 203 state House members, 26 of the 50 senators and one governor, Davare said, calling them the magic numbers.

Posted: Fri, Jul. 13, 2012, 2:06 PM
Philly charter school founder gets 2-year term for fraud
A former board president and founder of a Northwest Philadelphia charter school was sentenced in federal court today to 2 years in prison for stealing $522,000 in taxpayer money to prop up a restaurant, a health-food store, and a private school he controlled, and for other business and personal expenses.
In April, shortly before he was scheduled to go to trial, Hugh C. Clark, pleaded guilty to all 28 criminal counts related to his role in a scheme to drain funds from the New Media Technology Charter School.

Posted: Fri, Jul. 13, 2012, 3:01 AM
Days before its charter hearing, Truebright fired 8 teachers
By Martha Woodall Inquirer Staff Writer
Just days before a hearing began to prove that it should be granted a new operating charter, Truebright Science Academy Charter suddenly told eight of its 15 certified teachers - plus its technology director - that they would be terminated, staff members told The Inquirer.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission took the first step toward closing Truebright in April by passing a resolution that said the commission did not plan to renew the charter for 18 reasons. It cited poor academic performance at the North Philadelphia school and said it had not met the state requirement that 75 percent of its classroom teachers be certified.
Truebright, which opened in 2007, is one of more than 130 charters nationwide run by followers of a Turkish imam, M. Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Poconos.
The FBI and the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education are looking into allegations of kickbacks by Turkish teachers at the charters nationwide, according to sources.

Posted: Sat, Jul. 14, 2012, 3:01 AM
Charter expansions may cost Philadelphia schools $139 million
By Kristen A. Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
The charter school expansions approved by the School Reform Commission so far this year could cost the nearly insolvent Philadelphia School District $139 million over five years - a full $100 million more than officials said at a public meeting Friday.
The School District faces a budget deficit of as much as $282 million for the 2012-13 school year. If left unchecked, its five-year shortfall would be $1 billion.
When Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky on Friday asked the district's charter school chief, Thomas Darden, about the cost of the expansions approved this year - including two expansions OKd at Friday's meeting - Darden said the figure was $38 million.
Dworetzky, who had done his own calculations, was skeptical. He said his own estimate was "many, many times higher."  Later, officials said that an error had been made and that $139 million was the true cost over five years.

PA Charter Schools: $4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight
Public funding without public scrutiny

PA HR 800: A Resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study to evaluate the delivery of services by charter schools, including cyber charter schools, in this Commonwealth and track the use of funds received from the Commonwealth

Quakertown schools? There's an app for that
District launches mobile app
Quakertown Community School District has develop an app for mobile devices so students and parents can access the district's website
By Melinda Rizzo, Special to The Morning Call 9:26 p.m. EDT, July 13, 2012
The Quakertown Community School District has released an app designed to keep parents, students and staff informed about the district from their mobile devices.
"School districts need to go mobile to stay relevant. We're changing the way we're doing things to meet the needs of families," said Tom Murray, director of technology and cyber education.
Murray said the app development software, which can cost upward to $30,000, was free because he'd won it at a regional conference. "That's the beauty of this thing," he said. "It didn't cost a penny and it's free to everyone to download it, too."
The QCSD App for iPodiPhoneiPad and Android was rolled out last week can be downloaded on iTunes and Google Play (for Android).
Murray said it is the first school district app in Bucks County and one of the first in the state. Parkland School District also has developed an app.

PA Department of Education Press Release July 11, 2012
Education Secretary Announces $19.78 Million Awarded to Enhance Academic Opportunities for At-Risk Students 
Harrisburg – Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis today announced the 61 awardees that will receive a total of $19.78 million as part of the 21st Century Community Learning Challenge Grant.
“The intent of this grant is to fund the establishment and sustainability of community learning centers that provide additional educational services to students in high-poverty and low-performing schools,” Tomalis said. “The entities which were selected to receive funding provide educational opportunities that complement, supplement and enhance the work being done in the classroom.”

In the City of Corporate Love and Beyond: The Boston Consulting Group, Gates, and the Filthy Rich
Common Errant Blog by Doug Martin May 18, 2012
When the Michelle Rhee/Betsy Devos-endorsed Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, slashed$1.1 billion in educational funding over the last two years, he was merely continuing the disaster capitalism agenda against Philadelphia schools which began in 1998, when Act 46 passed.  As retaliation against Philadelphia Public Schools’ superintendent David Hornbeck for threatening to close down the entire district if the state did not provide adequate funding, Act 46 legalized a state takeover of the Philadelphia school system.  It was praised by lawmaker Dwight Evans, the Black Alliance for Educational Options’ darling whose backdoor dealings concerning the MLK charter school recently were highly criticized by Mayor Nutter’s own integrity officer but excused by Nutter himself. Over the years, despite actions and protests by communities to rid their neighborhoods of Edison Schools and other profiteers, even amidst Paul Vallas’ school plundering and the buyout/unemployment benefits scandal of former supt. and Broad Foundation toad Arlene Ackerman, the corporate reformers have increased their arsenal. With the anti-public school Philadelphia School Partnership in place, what was needed at the beginning of 2012, in fact, was a consulting firm with 75 global offices to be paid to slash-and-burn the Philly school system. Mayor Nutter, the unelected School Reform Commission (SRC), and former Philadelphia Gas Works executive-turned Philly school recovery CEO, Tom Knudsen (who is paid $150,000 yearly) found it in the Boston Consulting Group.

It's the Illuminati!

From the Notebook: The inimitable and insightful Tom Ferrick -- who, by the way, has written about the District for 30 years -- discusses schools, charters and conspiracy theories.  He starts  off this analysis by talking about dry cleaning.

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 07/13/2012

Louisiana voucher scheme fails to attract many students

Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss
A few months ago Louisiana started enacting a new law backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that is one of the broadest attacks on public education in any state across the nation — if not the broadest.
Under the law more than half of the students in the state would be offered vouchers, the number of privately managed charter schools would be greatly expanded and preschoolers will be given letter grades — just to name a few of its provisions.
The scheme to offer publicly funded vouchers to some 450,000 students so that they could attend private schools in the state drew a criticism when it became clear that many of those private schools were run by Christian fundamentalists and did not have the resources to absorb the new students.
So what has happened with the plan? 

PA State House announces its fall session days.

It's Gonna Be Snug.
Capitol Ideas Blog by John Micek
Hot off the presses, here's the House voting schedule for the fall legislative session:
Sept. 24 and 25 and Oct. 1-4 and Oct. 15-18.
Charter reform, liquor privatization and maybe even transportation funding? On that schedule? With no sine die session?
Bon chance.

NSBA Federal Relations Network seeking new members for 2013-14
School directors are invited to advocate for public education at the federal level through the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network. The National School Boards Association is seeking school directors interested in serving on the Federal Relations Network (FRN), its grass roots advocacy program that brings local board members on the front line of pending issues before Congress. If you are a school director and willing to carry the public education message to Washington, D.C., FRN membership is a good place to start. 
Click here for more information.


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