Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for August 24, 2013: Fed, state probes target PA’s largest charter schools

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3000 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, the acting PA Secretary of Education, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook and Twitter

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Keystone State Education Coalition:
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for August 24, 2013:
Fed, state probes target PA’s largest charter schools

“In its final draft the (charter reform) bill included a controversial provision that would have excluded charter school management and vendors from the Right to Know law. It did not pass the legislature. Neither did an earlier plan by Gov. Corbett - who as attorney general launched a probe of Trombetta in 2007 - to create a separate entity to approve charter schools, that would have removed the decision making from local school districts while leaving taxpayers with the bill.”
Fed, state probes target largest charter schools Commonwealth Confidential Blog by Amy Worden August 23, 2013, 10:01 PM
The founder of Pennsylvania's largest cyber charter school was indicted by federal authorities for allegedly funneling millions through front companies into his personal bank account.  The largest bricks-and-mortar charter received a stinging report from the state Auditor General for receiving more than $1 million in improper lease payments from the state. And that was just in the last 48 hours.

"They don't feel they should be subject to this law, or, candidly, subject to you," Mutchler told senators on the state government committee, which is considering legislation to amend the five-year-old law. "They are a cancer on the otherwise healthy right-to- know-law."
Pa. official: Charter schools flout public-records law
Amy Worden, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau POSTED: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 1:08 AM HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's 180 charter schools routinely ignore the state's Right-To-Know Law even though as publicly funded institutions they are bound to comply with it, the chief of the state's Office of Open Records told a Senate committee on Monday. Executive director Terry Mutchler said her office had received 239 appeals in cases in which charter schools either rejected or failed to answer requests from the public for information such as budgets, payrolls, or student rosters. She said her office ruled in favor of the schools on just six of those appeals.

Vahan Gureghian, Governor Corbett’s largest individual campaign donor and owner of the management company that runs Chester Community Charter School, has been fighting a right-to-know request in the courts for over six years.

"We allege this was a conscious, intentional scheme to steal money that was to be used to educate our children," U.S. attorney David Hickton said during a news conference Friday at the FBI field office on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Feds: PA Cyber guru schemed to steal $1 million
Charges against Nicholas Trombetta include fraud, tax conspiracy and filing false returns; accountant Neal Prence also indicted
By Jonathan D. Silver and Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 24, 2013 12:18 am
For more than a year, federal investigators pursued suspicions about Nicholas Trombetta, a high-flying educator with small-town origins who created the biggest, richest cyber school in the state.
From his Beaver County headquarters in Midland, Mr. Trombetta painstakingly built an elaborate money-making machine called Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Fueled by taxpayers, the school became wildly successful over the years -- more than 10,000 students and $100 million in revenue in 2012 -- and a savior for depressed Midland.
But Mr. Trombetta didn't stop there. He 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.

Federal grand jury indicts PA Cyber Charter School founder Nicholas Trombetta and his accountant
By Jonathan D. Silver and Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 23, 2013 11:50 am
Nicholas Trombetta, a onetime wrestling coach who founded the wildly successful PA Cyber Charter School, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a variety of fraud and tax charges.
A 41-page indictment made public this morning outlined the federal government's allegations against Mr. Trombetta and his accountant, Neal Prence.
"This investigation is active and continues," U.S. Attorney David Hickton said during a press conference this morning at the FBI field office on Pittsburgh's South Side.
A 41 page indictment made public this morning outlined the federal government's allegations against Nicholas Trombetta, who founded the PA Cyber Charter School, and his accountant, Neal Prence.  Federal investigators tallied the amount they said Mr. Trombetta stole at $990,000.

"As the founder and CEO of PA Cyber, Trombetta was a custodian of the public trust, receiving public funds," from local school taxes, state and federal subsidies, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.
Feds charge Pa. cyber-charter founder
WHYY Newsworks By Associated Press August 23, 2013
Listen to NewsWorks Tonight Guest Host Jennifer Lynn talk about cyber charters' checkered history in Pennsylvania with Education Week Staff Reporter Benjamin Herold
PITTSBURGH  — The founder and former CEO of Pennsylvania's largest cyber-charter school has been charged with siphoning more than $8 million from the school through a network of companies, then scheming with his accountant to avoid income taxes.  Nicholas Trombetta surrendered to the FBI on Thursday on charges announced Friday in Pittsburgh. They stem from his tenure at The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which he founded in Midland in 2000, and from which he drew an annual salary between $127,000 and $141,000 during the years covered by the indictment, 2006 to 2012.

“But the case may draw attention to a concern that a number of researchers and educators have raised in recent years – that online charter schools have grown so rapidly that accountability measures haven’t kept up, leaving the door open to a range of unethical and perhaps even criminal activity.”
Online charter school CEO indicted for misused funds. Do laws need tightening?
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.
The Christian Science Monitor By Stacy Teicher KhadarooStaff writer / August 23, 2013
Federal charges against Nicholas Trombetta, former CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, allege that he diverted more than $8 million of taxpayer money away from the school, used it for a condo, an airplane, and other personal expenses, and collaborated with his accountant to avoid paying taxes.
US Attorney David Hickton, who announced the charges Friday, was careful to note that “we are not indicting PA Cyber or cyber-education.”

Nicholas Trombetta's unique charter school saved town of Midland
By Mary Niederberger and Alex Zimmerman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 24, 2013 12:10 am
Nicholas Trombetta's frustration over having to bus high school students from Midland, Beaver County, to East Liverpool, Ohio, prompted the former Midland superintendent to create a cyber charter school.  Founded in 2000, the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which later dropped "western" from its name, would grow to become the state's largest cyber charter school with more than 11,000 students expected to enroll this fall and a budget of about $115 million.
The growth of the school and its related spinoffs is credited with the rebirth of Midland, a town that faltered after the shuttering of the Crucible Steel Mill in 1982 and the closing of its high school four years later.

PA Cyber Charter School educated nearly 2,000 midstate students in 2012-13
By Jan Murphy |  on August 23, 2013 at 11:32 AM
In 2001, then-Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta appeared before the state Senate Education Committee warning lawmakers of the phenomenon he saw forthcoming with the advent of cyberschools on the state’s public school arena.
Trombetta, who at that time was also superintendent at Beaver County's Midland School District, said, "Left unchecked and uncontrolled, we will see a proliferation of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania that will drain dollars away from our schools, away from our children, away from our commonwealth,"
Federal prosecutors accused Trombetta of doing the very same thing he said about cyberschools 12 years ago.

Pennsylvania’s largest brick and mortar charter and largest cyber charter are both in the news this week.
Proposed “charter school reform” legislation has included provisions that would further weaken public oversight and public accountability: statewide authorization, direct payment, exemption from right-to-know laws.

Here’s a related prior Keystone State Education Coalition posting
Reprise - PA Charter Schools: $4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight
Charter schools - public funding without public scrutiny
Proposed statewide authorization and direct payment would further diminish accountability and oversight for public tax dollars

Education Policy and Leadership Center

“Pennsylvania remains one of only three states in the nation not using a fair, accurate or transparent method for funding public schools, according to the center’s analysis of funding formulas across the country. That needs to be addressed. It’s time state lawmakers took a more serious approach to public-school funding.”
Our View: Fix state’s broken education system
Carlisle The Sentinel Editorial August 23, 2013
It’s no surprise that a Sentinel story about No Child Left Behind waivers turned into a larger discussion about Pennsylvania’s funding of public schools. While public school officials and advocates claim that eliminating federal benchmarks based solely on standardized testing is a step in the right direction, it in no way solves underlying problems. Students aren’t being given a fair opportunity to succeed, they rightly point out.

Pennsylvania gets a break from onerous federal education law: Editorial
By Patriot-News Editorial Board  on August 23, 2013
Naming President George W. Bush’s signature education law the “No Child Left Behind Act” was one of the greatest strokes of political branding in modern U.S. history.
To oppose the law was to be OK with leaving some children behind. Who could be in favor of that?

Pa. Supreme Court to take on kindergarten attendance case
By Matt Miller |  on August 23, 2013
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to jump into a dispute where a Snyder County mother was penalized for not ensuring that her twin daughters attended kindergarten.
And in doing so, the state's highest court will decide whether kindergarten students who are younger than 8 are required by state law to attend school.

Countdown, Day 17: NCLB waiver frees up federal money, but it's no help in Philly
Notebook by Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 23 2013
When Pennsylvania received its waiver from No Child Left Behind, school districts around the state gained flexibility in using once-restricted federal dollars. But Philadelphia was not so lucky.

“For each student that attends a charter school, Seneca Valley pays $8,000.  If that student is in an individualized education program, that cost can jump to between $12,000 and $18,000.”
Cyber program at Seneca Valley created out of necessity
TribLive By Shawn Annarelli  Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
More than 10 years of battles to keep local students from transferring to cyber charter schools has led Seneca Valley School District to fight back.  Nearly 200 Seneca Valley students have enrolled in cyber charter schools in each of the past five years, which has cost the school district more than $7.3 million in tuition to these schools.
Young Leaders Propose Solutions for Philly Education
Huffington Post by Jessie Fox Posted: 08/23/2013 10:39 am
"The point of the conversation today is to look forward. There are important opportunities among us right now in Philadelphia," said Claire Robinson-Kraft, director of Operation Public Education.
The reality is that if we don't start to come together as a city and look forward, we will lose what we have been working so hard for. We can't lose our dynamics and our renaissance. We can't let go of our Philadelphia.
The title of the event was, "Looking Forward: Philadelphia's Education Crisis," and it was not a debate, but a conversation. In the midst of this crisis there are still people who remain positive and believe that now, more than ever there is still an underlying hope.

PA State Sen. Edwin Erickson becomes third GOP senator to announce his retirement
By Jan Murphy |  on August 23, 2013 at 9:51 AM
Sen. Edwin "Ted" Erickson, R-Delaware County, has announced his plans to not seek re-election in 2014.  Erickson, who has served in the Senate since 2001, becomes the third Republican member of the state Senate to announce his intentions to leave office when his term expires next year.

State Sen. Ted Erickson to retire, will not run again in 2014
By DANIELLE LYNCH @dmlreporter  August 24, 2013
Friday marked the end of an era in Delaware County politics.
State Sen. Edwin “Ted” Erickson, R-26, of Newtown, announced he will not seek re-election when his term is up at the end of 2014.

YONG ZHAO - China Enters “Testing-free” Zone: The New Ten Commandments of Education Reform
Yong Zhao’s Blog 22 AUGUST 2013
No standardized tests, no written homework, no tracking. These are some of the new actions China is taking to lessen student academic burden. The Chinese Ministry of Education released Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students this week for public commentary. The Ten Regulations are introduced as one more significant measure to reform China’s education, in addition to further reduction of academic content, lowering the academic rigor of textbooks, expanding criteria for education quality, and improving teacher capacity.

At least 50 U.S. cities have created systems of community schoolsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader , serving an estimated 5.1 million students. Community schools expand learning opportunities through after-school and summer-enrichment programs, thereby increasing instructional time and students' academic success. They also provide on-site medical, dental, mental-health, and social services, providing kids ready access to much-needed care and removing health-related barriers to learning and development.
The results are powerful.”
Community Schools: A Worthwhile Investment
Education Week COMMENTARY By Cheryl D. Hayes and Richard R. Buery Jr. August 20, 2013
Much of the investment we have made in public school reform over the past decade has failed to pay dividends because it has focused almost exclusively on the classroom-instruction side of the teaching-and-learning equation.  Research has made it clear that instructional improvements can be successful only when they are combined with family and community engagement and genuine efforts to improve the school's climate for learning—in other words, when resources are organized for student success by creating community schools. Now there is growing proofRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader that not only does this reform strategy boost outcomes for children, but that it also provides a significant social return on investment.

Even In Birthplace of Charter Schools, the Grand Experiment Is At Risk
Two decades after the first charter school law passed in Minnesota, the movement is still struggling to reconcile innovation with accountability By Sarah Butrymowicz / The Hechinger Report Aug. 22, 2013
When the Minnesota New Country School opened two decades ago in Le Sueur, a rural town 60 miles southwest of Minneapolis, co-founder Dee Thomas and her teachers hoped to do things differently. There would be no bells between classes. Teachers would come to decisions democratically. Students would learn through self-directed projects instead of traditional classroom lectures.
For its entire existence, the school—which is adding elementary grades to serve students from kindergarten to 12th grade beginning this fall—has clung steadfastly to its initial vision. But with increasing amounts of state regulation and accompanying pressure on schools to perform well on one-size-fits-all standardized tests, New Country’s approach is at risk.
“I feel like I have a permanent bruise on my forehead from running into a brick wall,” said Thomas. The school’s future “is always in jeopardy whenever quality is based on traditional standards.”

Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee Public hearing on Keystone Exams
Monday, August 26, 2013, 9:30 AM, Tredyffrin-Easttown School District
105 W. Walker Rd. Wayne, PA

Acting PA Education Secretary to speak at Lancaster Lebanon IU 13 on Sept. 10
Penn Manor SD website by Brian Wallace August 16, 2013
William Harner, the acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, will speak Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, 1020 New Holland Ave. The address is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. School administrators, board members, teachers’ union representatives, PTO/PTA officers and others interested in education issues are urged to attend. Registration is requested by Sept. 6 at :

Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee Public hearing on Common Core
Thursday, August 29, 2013, 9:30 AM Capitol, Hearing Room 1, North Office Bldg.

Save the Date: Diane Ravitch will be speaking in Philly at the Main Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library on September 17 at 7:30 pm..
Diane Ravitch | Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools
When: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 7:30PM 
Central Library
Cost: $15 General Admission, $7 Students
Ticket and Subscription Packages 
Tickets on sale here at 10:00 a.m. on August 23, 2013

Yinzers - Save the Date: Diane Ravitch will be speaking in Pittsburgh on September 16th at 6:00 pm at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill. 
The lecture is being hosted by Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, which is a new coalition of community, faith, and labor organizations consisting of Action United, One Pittsburgh, PA Interfaith Impact Network, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, SEIU, and Yinzercation.  Co-sponsors for the event include the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, the PA State Education Association, Temple Sinai, and First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh Social Justice Endowment.  More details to come.

Join the National School Boards Action Center Friends of Public Education
Participate in a voluntary network to urge your U.S. Representatives and Senators to support federal legislation on Capitol Hill that is critical to providing high quality education to America’s schoolchildren

PSBA is accepting applications to fill vacancies in NSBA's grassroots advocacy program. Deadline to apply is Sept. 6.
PSBA members: Influence public education policy at the federal level; join NSBA's Federal Relations Network
The National School Boards Association is seeking school directors interested in filling vacancies for the remainder of the 2013-14 term of the Federal Relations Network. The FRN is NSBA's grassroots advocacy program that provides the opportunity for school board members from every congressional district in the country who are committed to public education to get involved in federal advocacy. For more than 40 years, school board members have been lobbying for public education on Capitol Hill as one unified voice through this program. 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!

PSBA members will elect officers electronically for the first time in 2013
PSBA 7/8/2013
Beginning in 2013, PSBA members will follow a completely new election process which will be done electronically during the month of September. The changes will have several benefits, including greater membership engagement and no more absentee ballot process.
Below is a quick Q&A related to the voting process this year, with more details to come in future issues of School Leader News and at More information on the overall governance changes can be found in the February 2013 issue of the PSBA Bulletin:

Electing PSBA Officers: 2014 PSBA Slate of Candidates
Details on each candidate, including bios, statements, photos and video are online now
PSBA Website Posted 8/5/2013
The 2014 PSBA Slate of Candidates is being officially published to the members of the association. Details on each candidate, including bios, statements, photos and video are online at

PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference
October 15-18, 2013 | Hershey Lodge & Convention Center
Important change this year: Delegate Assembly (replaces the Legislative Policy Council) will be Tuesday Oct. 15 from 1 – 4:30 p.m.
The PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference is the largest gathering of elected officials in Pennsylvania and offers an impressive collection of professional development opportunities for school board members and other education leaders.
See Annual School Leadership Conference links for all program details.

PAESSP State Conference October 27-29, 2013
The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, State College, PA
The state conference is PAESSP’s premier professional development event for principals, assistant principals and other educational leaders. Attending will enable you to connect with fellow educators while learning from speakers and presenters who are respected experts in educational leadership.
 Featuring Keynote Speakers: Charlotte Danielson, Dr. Todd Whitaker, Will Richardson & David Andrews, Esq. (Legal Update).

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