Monday, May 21, 2012

PA Charter Schools: $4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight (updated July 24, 2013)

Last updated July 24, 2013

$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

0 of 12  Of 12 PA cyber charters zero made AYP for 2012; only 2 made AYP for 2011, while 8 were in corrective action status under No Child Left Behind and 7 have never made AYP.

1 in a quadrillion  The odds that erasure patterns were random on the reading portion of Chester Community Charter School seventh graders' 2009 PSSAs; the state left the charter to investigate itself.  

2 times  A double-dip exists in the charter funding formula for reimbursement of pension costs.

17%  A June 2009 Stanford University/CREDO study done in partnership with the pro school choice Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems looked at charter performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia covering more than 70 percent of the nation’s charter school students.  It found that only 17% of charters had academic gains better than traditional public schools; 37% were worse and 46% showed no significant difference.

18 Philadelphia charter schools are reportedly under federal investigation.  Several charters have involvement of legislators, family members and staffers. Representative Matzie introduced HB 1740 earlier this session which is modeled after House Rules that prohibit members and immediate family members from association with gambling interests.

23%  Of the 1,741 appeals received by the PA Office of Open Records for denied information requests, 23 percent pertain to charter schools.

25%  A 2011 Stanford/CREDO study reported that students at just 25 percent of the state's charter schools made significantly more learning gains in reading and math.  But they found that students at nearly half of the charter schools made significantly lower learning gains in both subjects than their traditional public school counterparts. 

100%  The 2011 Stanford/CREDO study found that in 100 percent of Pennsylvania cyber charters, students performed “significantly worse” in math and reading than students at traditional public schools.

239  PA Office of Open Records 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.  "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."

$1000  What it reportedly costs a home schooled student’s parents for online curriculum.

$3000  PA charter schools average cost per student of $13,411 was about $3000 more than the national average of $10,000.

$3500  PA cybercharter average cost per student of $10,145 was $3500 more than the national average of $6500.

$9000  What a representative school district is required to pay in tuition to a cyber charter for each regular education student.

19,298 According to minutes from the December 18, 2012 Agora Cyber Charter School board meeting, our Pennsylvania tax dollars paid for 19,298 local TV commercials.  And that's just for TV ads - these's no mention of radio, print or ubiquitous internet ads in that total.

$27,000 What a representative school district is required to pay in tuition to a cyber charter for each and every special education student (unlike traditional public schools whose special education funding by the state is capped at 16% of students, there is no special ed cap for charter schools).

30,000  In testimony before the House Democratic Policy Committee in Philadelphia last year, Archdiocese Superintendent Mary Rochford estimated that they had lost 30,000 students to free public charter schools.

$34,400  What Chester Upland, arguable the poorest school district in the state, is required to pay in tuition to a charter school for each special education student.

$153,629 2010 reported salary of charter CEO with 1202 students.
$155,000 2010 reported salary of charter CEO with 896 students
$189,844 2010 reported salary of charter CEO with 155 students
$193,510 2010 reported salary of charter CEO with 929 students
$201,800 2010 reported salary of Lower Merion Supt. with 6943 students
$241,033 2010 reported salary of charter CEO with 588 students

$384,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Corbett reported by Vahan Gureghian, whose management company runs the state’s largest brick and mortar charter school.

$1,320,653.69 Pennsylvania political contributions reported by Vahan Gureghian from 1/1/2007 through 5/31/11.  Mr. Gureghian has been a strong proponent of legislation making it easier for new charter schools to be authorized by the state without the involvement and oversight of local school districts, whose taxpayers would still have to pay the bills.

$3 million The 21st Century Cyber Charter School reportedly has a $3 million accumulated balance of excess funds over actual costs that it would like to return to school districts and their taxpayers but there is apparently no provision in the existing charter school law that would enable them to refund the money.

$5 million taxpayer dollars: last year’s bonus to K-12 Inc.’s CEO Ron Packard.  K-12’s Agora cyber charter has never made AYP.  Prior to his appointment as PA Budget Secretary, Charles Zogby was a K-12 executive.

$10 million taxpayer dollars: The amount that Nick Trombetta, former CEO of PA Cyber Charter (the state’s largest cyber charter), reportedly took out of the school’s fund balance to finance construction of a performing arts center.  Mr. Trombetta and his related companies are recently under investigation by the IRS and FBI.

$28.9 million; what Mr Gureghian reportedly spent in 2011 for 2 beachfront lots in Palm Beach Florida. (we don’t know if these are in fact taxpayer dollars since a right-to-know request pending for several years now looks like it is headed to the state Supreme Court). The charter school amendment passed by the House in June included a clause that would have exempted contractors like him from PA Right-to-Know laws.

$86 million taxpayer dollars.  The PA Auditor General’s Office reported that taxpayers and school districts could have saved approximately $86 million in 2009-2010 if cybers received funding based on what they spent per student.  Despite this and the fact that most cybers have never made AYP, the State’s response was to authorize more new cyber schools for 2012-2013.

$365 million, PA Auditor Generals's estimated annual savings for PA taxpayers by fixing the charter school funding formula

$510 million; estimated savings to taxpayers by 2016-2017 by removing the "double dip" for pension costs in the charter school reimbursement formula.

$4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight.  The Allentown Morning Call reported that there are few eyes on the $4 billion taxpayers have spent toward charter schools in the last decade. That total, according to Department of Education data, includes per pupil expenditures, salaries, building and rental costs, and grants.


  1. Thank you Lawrence, for your work in PA. I learned of what you are doing through Diane Ravitch's blog. I wish there were someone in my state (WI) with the kinds of connections, resources and respect you have, who could shine the light on the efforts and motives of the "reform" movement in our state. Bravo!

  2. Lawrence,

    Thanks for the invaluable info. May I add a couple of points? The SRC recently allotted $15 million for creation of a cyber charter academy in the SDP; no word on whether there are any students enrolled yet.

    Terry Muchner, who oversees the Office of Open Records, has said publicly that the worst offenders, by far, are the charter schools who either ignore requests for information or refuse to comply.

    Another question is what the charter oversight office of the SDP actually does; I have not seen any reports made by the at SRC meetings.

    Lisa Haver

  3. Thank you, again, Lawrence, for publicizing the fraud that continues. Just a note to all that the PA House is considering PA Senate Bill 6, already passed by the PA Senate that will create this mystery "Achievement School District" (ASD). ASD will be led by appointees by legislators, with no accountability to the local communities for which these appointees will run their schools from Harrisburg. The charter companies are loving this bill as naturally, the ASD will appoint a charter organization to take over the schools in which students have poor test scores. This bill's language, written primarily by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is purposely tied to charter companies with stipulations such as hiring all certified teachers is NOT required, teachers may NOT be members of a union, administrators will NOT need certification, and the bill's authors propose a "parent trigger" policy, permitting 50% of parents to close the public school. These ASDs exist in a few other states, and data from Tennessee indicate that they are NOT successful--what a surprise. Please speak out against PA S. B. 6 to your PA state representatives--TODAY!

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