Friday, September 23, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept 23: DePasquale calls for charter school reform in wake of scathing PA Cyber audit

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup September 23, 2016
DePasquale calls for charter school reform in wake of scathing PA Cyber audit


Blogger note:

Thanks to our speakers Auditor General DePasquale, State Rep. Bernie O’Neill, Superintendents Sam Lee and Frank Gallagher and all of the school leaders and legislators who attended last night’s legislative roundtable in Bucks County.

Thanks also to PSBA, PASA, Susan Spicka of Education Voters PA, Bill Shoffler of PA Citizens for Children & Youth and Circuit Riders Sandra Miller & Tom Seidenberger for their participation.

Thanks very much to Mark Miller, the Centennial School District & School Board for hosting.
Charter schools dominate talk at William Tennent roundtable
Intelligencer By Chris English, staff writer September 22, 2016
Employee pension and charter school tuition costs are the two biggest financial challenges facing Pennsylvania public schools, two area school district superintendents said Thursday night during a Pennsylvania School Boards Association legislative roundtable at William Tennent High School in Warminster.  The event was a chance for school board members and administrators from Bucks, Montgomery and other counties to talk with state lawmakers and others about educational issues, said PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains.  Discussion of charter schools dominated much of the night.  Bensalem Superintendent Samuel Lee said the school district must pay $13,000 a year per regular education student and $32,000 per special education student for the 752 students that attend School Lane Charter Schools in Bensalem.  "That's far more than it would cost to educate those students in our schools," said Lee, who added that he was not criticizing the quality of education offered at School Lane but just pointing out fiscal realities.
"They have good programs and do a good job, but (charter school tuition costs) compromise our ability to provide that equity and excellence that we want for all our students," said Lee.
Frank Gallagher, superintendent of the Souderton School District in Bucks and Eastern Montgomery counties, had similar thoughts.

Auditor General DePasquale Says Audits of PA Cyber Charter School, Two Other Schools Reaffirm Need to Overhaul Charter School Law 
Says all charter boards should be publicly elected, management companies subject to Open Records Law
Press Release PA Auditor General’s Office September 22, 2016
HARRISBURG (Sept. 22, 2016) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said recent audits of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber), which enrolls students from 484 districts, and two related schools in Beaver County once again demonstrate the urgent need to overhaul the worst charter school law in the nation.   “Our audits of PA Cyber, the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and, to a much lesser extent, Midland Borough School District illustrate just how poorly our charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers and ensuring that education dollars help students learn, not help individuals profit,” DePasquale said during a news conference to announce audit reports on the three schools.  “Auditors found that leaders involved with all three of these schools had intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs while controlling hundreds of millions of taxpayer education funds from nearly every district in the state,” he said.

Call to overhaul PA Charter School Law
Auditor General calls it the worst in the nation
CNN/WeAreCentralPA Published 09/22 2016 02:02PM
Harrisburg, Pa - Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale unveiled a critical report of the state's charter school law and called on lawmakers to make changes.  DePasquale called it, "the worst charter school law in the United States."  His report claimed these schools are putting self-interest above student needs and took advantage of taxpayers.  Here is the auditor general's full report:  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said recent audits of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber), which enrolls students from 484 districts, and two related schools in Beaver County once again demonstrate the urgent need to overhaul the worst charter school law in the nation.  “Our audits of PA Cyber, the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and, to a much lesser extent, Midland Borough School District illustrate just how poorly our charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers and ensuring that education dollars help students learn, not help individuals profit,” DePasquale said during a news conference to announce audit reports on the three schools.  “Auditors found that leaders involved with all three of these schools had intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs while controlling hundreds of millions of taxpayer education funds from nearly every district in the state,” he said.

Auditor releases Pa. charter school findings
Titusville Herald By Stella Ruggiero Herald Managing Editor Friday, September 23, 2016
Pennsylvania’s auditor general on Thursday issued a report with recommendations to improve accountability, effectiveness and transparency of charter schools, including creating an independent statewide charter school oversight board.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted that charter schools are here to stay and thousands of parents welcome the option.  “Many outstanding charter schools in the state are doing amazing things for children and offering new ways to learn. However, based on our audits and feedback at meetings across the state, it’s clear that the original intention of the charter school law has not been fulfilled. We owe it to students, parents and taxpayers to re-group and make some fundamental changes to improve oversight and accountability of charter schools in Pennsylvania.”  Brick-and-mortar schools are self managed and publicly funded schools that are authorized by local school districts. Cyber charter schools are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Both can be created by parents, teachers, community leaders, and colleges or universities. They are controlled by an appointed board of trustees.  Pennsylvania has more than 84,000 students enrolled in more than 160 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 35,000 students enrolled in 16 cyber charter schools.

"Auditors found that leaders involved with all three of these schools had intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs while controlling hundreds of millions of taxpayer education funds from nearly every district in the state," DePasquale said.  The state's largest cyber charter school, PA Cyber had almost 10,000 students from 484 school district enrolled as of Oct. 1, 2014. It received more than $118.6 million from the districts where its students live in 2013-14.”
Lehigh Valley schools near top in sending money to cyber school
By Sara K. Satullo | For lehighvalleylive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on September 22, 2016 at 6:18 PM, updated September 22, 2016 at 6:20 PM
The Bethlehem Area and Allentown school districts are among the top 20 Pennsylvania school districts in taxpayer dollars sent to a cyber school whose leaders put their own interests above educating students, the state's fiscal watchdog said Thursday.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a sharp critic of Pennsylvania's charter school law, again slammed it during a news conference announcing the results of his audit of PA Cyber Charter School, Lincoln Performing Arts Center and the Midland Borough School District.  All three schools are linked to Nicholas Trombetta, who recently pleaded guilty to a charge of tax evasion connected to a scheme to funnel $8 million from the cyber school he founded to other entities he created. He has yet to be sentenced.

Pa. auditor general: Cyber spent millions on mgt. firm, arts center tied to founder
Inquirer by Martha Woodall and Karen Langley, STAFF WRITERS Updated: SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 — 2:00 PM EDT
The state's largest cyber charter school paid millions of taxpayer dollars to a management company, an arts center, another charter school, and other entities tied to the school's founder, according to Pennsylvania's fiscal watchdog, and called again for an overhaul of what he called the nation's worst charter law.  Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale Thursday detailed the findings his office made when it conducted a sweeping performance audit of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, Beaver County, the related Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and the school district.  "Our audits of PA Cyber, the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and, to a much lesser extent, Midland Borough School District illustrate just how poorly our charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers and ensuring that education dollars help students learn, not help individuals profit," DePasquale said at a news conference in Harrisburg.  The PA Cyber audit, which covered the period from May 13, 2011, through March 11, 2016, found eight areas of concern.

PA Cyber Top 20 Sending School Districts
PA Cyber Charter School had 9,618 students from 484 school districts enrolled as of October 1,2014

School Performance Profile Scores for PA Cyber Charters 2013, 2014 and 2015
Keystone State Education Coalition August 21, 2016
Total cyber charter tuition paid by PA taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was over $1.2 billion; $393.5 million, $398.8 million and $436.1 million respectively.  Not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in any of the three years that the SPP has been in effect.

Auditor finds conflicts of interest in spending of cyber charter
School had contracts with entities tied to founder
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa September 22, 2016 — 3:31pm
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has issued another report calling for reform of Pennsylvania's charter school law, this one citing multiple contracts between the state's largest cyber charter and entities tied to its founder.  Among other things, it says that the management firm run by PA Cyber founder Nicholas Trombetta received a $110 million, three-year curriculum contract from the school, which enrolls 10,000 students, but failed to deliver on its promises. Despite missing several deadlines, the PA cyber board waived $4.2 million in penalties.  Trombetta, a former Midland Borough school superintendent, was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2013 on charges including mail fraud and tax evasion and last month pleaded guilty to one count of tax conspiracy. He is to be sentenced in December.  A link to a press release and the full report, which covers a five-year period from 2011 to 2016, can be found here. 

“Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a harsh audit of the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School that he says should force state legislators to reform the state's charter school law.”
DePasquale calls for charter school reform in wake of scathing PA Cyber audit
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose jprose@calkins.com September 22, 2016
In a scathing audit of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s leadership over a five-year period, the state’s auditor general describes numerous administrative failings, multiple conflicts of interest and a culture that enriched a favored few.  Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told The Times in an exclusive interview Wednesday that the 95-page audit’s results must jump-start a move to reform the state’s charter school law, which he has called the worst in the nation.  “It should be a clarion call to change the law to make sure that this type of nonsense doesn’t happen again,” DePasquale said.  DePasquale released the audit in Harrisburg on Thursday and called for the Legislature to implement sweeping reforms. He described PA Cyber, which generally has annual revenue exceeding $100 million, as being treated as a “cash cow” in a culture in which PA Cyber founder and former CEO Nick Trombetta held overlapping roles and others moved from one Trombetta-created company to another.

Pennsylvania charter school law dubbed 'worst in the country'
Trib Live BY ELIZABETH BEHRMAN  | Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, 5:48 p.m.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale pointed to the founder of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School as an example of why he says the state's charter school law is the worst in the country.  Nick Trombetta, who founded the Midland school in 2000, last month pleaded guilty to charges of federal tax fraud after siphoning about $8 million from school funds. Even though he faces up to five years in prison for his crime, the way Trombetta managed the school technically didn't violate the state charter law, DePasquale said during a Harrisburg news conference on Thursday.  His office released audits of the cyber charter schooland the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School , which Trombetta founded in a performing arts center of the same name in Beaver County. Both schools use charter school management company Lincoln Learning Solutions, which Trombetta also founded.  “Nick Trombetta, behind all of these entities, exploited every gray area in the law to get rich off the backs of students and taxpayers,” DePasquale said.

Pa. auditor general calls for charter school reforms
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO bmilazzo@centredaily.com SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 11:30 PM
The state auditor general is calling for charter school reform, including that of PA Cyber Charter School, which educates more than 75 students from Centre County.  It comes on the heels of a longtime audit led by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that he said showed “how poorly” charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers.  The goal for reform, DePasquale said, is to ensure education dollars help students learn, instead of help individuals profit.  “The bottom line is this: Nearly 20 years have passed since charter schools were authorized to be established,” DePasquale said in a prepared statement. “We need to revisit Pennsylvania’s charter school experience, and act now — not later — to overhaul the charter school law and do a very thorough tune-up on all aspects of charter school oversight and regulation.”  A report released by the state Thursday said auditors found leaders of some charter schools “had intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs while controlling hundreds of millions of taxpayer education funds from nearly every district in the state.”

State audit faults Pennsylvania's largest online charter
Morning Call by APHARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) September 22, 2016
Poor governance and financial conflicts of interest have plagued Pennsylvania's largest online charter school, which collects tens of millions of dollars from nearly every school district in the state, a state audit found.  The performance audit, released Thursday by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, found the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, Beaver County, failed to provided adequate oversight of business dealings involving Nick Trombetta, the founder and CEO, who is due to be sentenced in November on a federal tax conspiracy charge.  "In the case of PA Cyber Charter School, publicly elected school boards from nearly every school district in the state are sending state and local tax dollars to the cyber school with zero input and accountability," said DePasquale, who used the audit to call for reforms of the state's charter school law, which he called the worst in the nation.  Trombetta created a number of entities that provided services to the school, and "took advantage of every flaw in the law to get rich off the backs of students and taxpayers," DePasquale said.

If the Legislature does nothing else this fall, it must fix Pa.'s pensions mess: Dennis Yablonsky, Rob Wonderling and Gene Barr
PennLive Op-Ed  By Dennis Yablonsky, Rob Wonderling and Gene Barr on September 22, 2016 at 12:00 PM, updated September 22, 2016 at 12:02 PM
Dennis Yablonsky is CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Rob Wonderling is President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia Gene Barr is President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
The Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives passed different versions of state pension reform earlier this year. But they're not done yet.  So we're encouraged by those legislative leaders who have indicated their intention to bring the issue back up in the fall and work towards passing legislation with substantive reform that can be signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.  We share their sense of urgency to right our state's fiscal ship as the cost of inaction continues to rise.  There are only a handful of session days left before the General Assembly returns home for the November elections. Waiting until next session and starting from scratch on a new bill with new members will only cost Pennsylvania's taxpayers more. 
The time to act is now.

Gov. Wolf visits Philly to talk education funding, tout record
WHYY Newsworks BY AVI WOLFMAN-ARENT SEPTEMBER 23, 2016
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visited Baldi Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia Thursday to tout increases in education funding and push for more.  Sylvia Ramos, 13, an ace reporter for The Baldi Times, was ready for him.  The eighth grader asked if Wolf had a plan in place so her teachers didn’t have to spend their own money on school supplies.  The Governor’s response: “I’m trying.”  The most recent state budget contained about $50 million in added money for the School District of Philadelphia, money that allowed the district to hire more nurses and counselors and purchase new textbooks.  Superintendent William Hite, who joined Wolf Thursday, has called the start of the 2016-17 school the best since he took charge four years ago. Even he had to answer tough questions from the crowd at Baldi.

Editorial: Court reviews education funding
Beaver County Times Editorial By Calkins Media September 23, 2016
Local residents should be keeping a close eye on a case currently before the state Supreme Court that could have a direct bearing on the education of their children.  Education reformers have filed a lawsuit asking the court to revamp the way schools are funded in the commonwealth. They contend that the current system, which relies heavily on school property taxes, puts too much of a burden on low-income school districts that can’t raise the money necessary to educate their students for today’s economy. They note that students in those districts fall far behind their counterparts in wealthier school districts where funding isn’t a problem.  The court held a hearing last week on the issue in Philadelphia, and lawyers for the reformers were sharply critical of the system.  “[Lawmakers] have fallen down terribly. They have not done their jobs,” said attorney Brad Elias “The entire system is just arbitrary.”  Given that the budget per student ranges from about $10,000 to $28,000 across the state, Elias said students who need the most resources get the least. He called the system “unconscionable.”  Attorneys for legislative leaders argued that the court shouldn’t get involved in the dispute.  “The court cannot determine what constitutes an adequate education,” lawyer Patrick Northen argued.  They had an unlikely ally in Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who said the issue should be worked out by legislators not by judges.

Appeals court denies request for stay on Lancaster refugee lawsuit decision
Lancaster Online KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer September 23, 2016
Refugee students who sued School District of Lancaster this summer will continue to attend McCaskey High School as the case moves through  an appeal, two federal judges ruled Tuesday. The district last week asked for a temporary halt on a judge's order to admit the refugee students to McCaskey instead of a privately-run alternative school.  The court rejected the request Tuesday.  District spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said school officials were disappointed but not surprised. They are, she said, excited about a second part of the decision: the judges granted a request for an expedited appeal.  Both sides must submit briefs on the case in October, though the timeline after that is undetermined.  In August, U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith sided with six refugee students who sued the school district over enrollment and school placement practices. The students said that language barriers at Phoenix Academy, an accelerated program for students at risk of dropping out, made it "impossible" to learn there.

New Kensington-Arnold officials considering moving 10 Commandments monument from high school
Trib Live BY LIZ HAYES | Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, 10:48 p.m.
New Kensington-Arnold School District officials are considering alternate locations for the embattled Ten Commandments monument at Valley Junior-Senior High School.  “We are exploring our options,” Superintendent John Pallone said in response to a question Thursday from school board member Ron Balla about whether the district is going to move the monument. It has been the subject of a legal battle for four years.  Pallone said officials have reached out to organizations to gauge their willingness to accept the monument that stands in front of the New Kensington high school between a walking bridge and the gymnasium.

Registration stretches beyond school start
Hazelton Standard Speaker by MARIA JACKETTI / PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 22, 2016
José de los Santos sat in the lobby of the Hazleton Area School District Administration building late Wednesday afternoon counting his blessings.  A Dominican by birth, he had been calling Puerto Rico his home. Only a month ago, he decided to move to Hazleton to find a better life.  And according to Santos, he found just that.  As he sat in the lobby, overflowing with parents and relatives with students in tow awaiting registration, his daughter, soon to be a 10th-grader, was filling out paperwork.  “These schools are so clean, beautiful and wonderful,” de los Santos said quietly with a tone of celebration in his voice.


Turkey’s Battle With Muslim Cleric Careens Through U.S. Classrooms
American charter schools have become embroiled in a proxy fight between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen
Wall Street Journal By  IANTHE JEANNE DUGAN and DOUGLAS BELKIN Sept. 22, 2016
A global proxy war between the president of Turkey and his No. 1 nemesis played out early this year in an otherwise routine public-school board meeting in Fremont, Calif.  On the agenda during the January meeting was a pitch from the chief executive of a California charter-school chain, which had proposed opening an outpost in the Silicon Valley suburb.  Also in attendance, and bearing a long list of objections, was a lawyer representing the Republic of Turkey.  The attorney, from London-based Amsterdam & Partners LLP, “has been following us around lately” trying to block the chain’s projects, Caprice Young, chief executive of Magnolia Public Schools, told the Fremont board. “He is a representative of the Turkish government who seems to believe that we are affiliated with a religious group with whom we are not affiliated.”

Kansas Supreme Court takes up adequacy part of school-finance case
Plaintiffs seek minimum $500 million in aid to K-12; state requests reversal of lower court
Topeka Capitol Journal By Tim Carpenter timothy.carpenter@cjonline.com Posted: September 21, 2016 - 1:16pm
The Kansas Supreme Court peeled back layers of constitutional complexity Wednesday during oral arguments in a school finance lawsuit challenging adequacy of state funding to public education.  Tentacles of the case range across legal, political, budgetary and educational ground, with victory by plaintiff school districts Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan., requiring an estimated $500 million to $800 million expansion of state aid to K-12 schools. Total funding in the current fiscal year is $4 billion.  Plaintiffs prevailed in 2013 after a 16-day trial in Shawnee County District Court, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed.

Justices to continue overseeing S.C. education funding case
Chron by  Seanna Adcox, Associated Press Updated 5:53 pm, Wednesday, September 21, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Legislature must report back to the state Supreme Court next summer on its progress complying with the justices' 2014 order to fix South Carolina's education system.  While applauding legislators' "studied and dedicated approach," justices rejected GOP leaders' request last month that the high court end its oversight on the 23-year-old case over adequate funding.  "We commend the defendants on their efforts and await, with anticipation, reports on further implementation of the findings and recommendations," the justices wrote in Tuesday's order. "On that note, we opt to continue to monitor the progress towards a constitutionally compliant education system."  The high court's latest order also requires rural school districts that initially sued in 1993 to detail their efforts.

Conn. Supreme Court Will Hear Appeal to School Funding Case
Education Week State Ed Watch Blog By Daarel Burnette II on September 21, 2016 11:17 AM
Connecticut's supreme court will hear an expedited appeal of a superior court's sweeping ruling that the state's funding formula doesn't meet constitutional standards, according the Associated Press.    Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued  90-page ruling earlier this month demanding that the state overhaul its public school system to fix disparities between its poor and wealthier students.   And, riding on a wave of national attention, the districts and mayors that filed the original lawsuit have told the state's supreme court that it should wait to see what the legislature does next term before deciding to hear the appeal.    The ruling regarding the state's yawning achievement gap shocked even the plaintiffs for its breadth, language, and demand that the state essentially make over its entire approach to educating its students within the next 180 days.   The plaintiffs filed the suit almost 12 years ago, arguing that the state had broken its constitutional obligation to equitably and adequately fund its school districts. 

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 9/22/2016


EDUCATION LAW CENTER invites you to our ANNUAL CELEBRATION
Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 5:30 PM
The Crystal Tea Room, The Wanamaker Building
100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, PA
Honoring: Pepper Hamilton LLP, Signe Wilkinson, Dr. Monique W. Morris
And presenting the ELC PRO BONO AWARD  to Paul Saint-Antoine & Chanda Miller
of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Registration for the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 13-15 is now open
The conference is your opportunity to learn, network and be inspired by peers and experts.
TO REGISTER: See https://www.psba.org/members-area/store-registration/   (you must be logged in to the Members Area to register). You can read more on How to Register for a PSBA Event here.   CONFERENCE WEBSITE: For all other program details, schedules, exhibits, etc., see the conference website:www.paschoolleaders.org.

The Sixth Annual Arts and Education Symposium – October 27, 2016
The 2016 Arts and Education Symposium will be held on October 27 at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg Convention Center.  Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Arts Education network and EPLC, the Symposium is a Unique Networking and Learning Opportunity for:
·         Arts Educators
·         School Leaders
·         Artists
·         Arts and Culture Community Leaders
·         Arts-related Business Leaders
·         Arts Education Faculty and Administrators in Higher Education
·         Advocates
·         State and Local Policy Leaders
Act 48 Credit is available.
Program and registration information are available here.

REGISTER NOW for the 2016 PA Principals Association State Conference, October 30 - November 1, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College.
PA Principals Association website Tuesday, August 2, 2016 10:43 AM
To receive the Early Bird Discount, you must be registered by August 31, 2016:
Members: $300  Non-Members: $400
Featuring Three National Keynote Speakers: Eric Sheninger, Jill Jackson & Salome Thomas-EL

SAVE THE DATE LWVPA Convention 2017 June 1-4, 2017
Join the League of Women Voters of PA for our 2017 Biennial Convention at the beautiful Inn at Pocono Manor!


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