Friday, July 13, 2012

June 8: Gov. Corbett says it’s time to reduce the funding for cyber schools. July 12: FBI, IRS Raid Offices of PA Cyberschool Pioneer Nick Trombetta.

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Last Updated Sunday, July 15, 8:00 am

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.

A little background: a 2007 grand jury investigation under then Attorney General Corbett did not result in any action.  Among other things, it was reported that Trombetta had used $10 million from his cyber school’s fund balance to help finance construction of a performing arts center for the town of Midland.
Here’s Post-Gazette coverage from March 2007:
Cyber-school empire under attack
Beaver County educator fighting grand juries, suits and legislators
March 18, 2007 By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the past seven years, Nicholas Trombetta has climbed from small-town Beaver County school administrator to the head of a sprawling educational network fueled by millions of taxpayer dollars.
Now this onetime wrestling coach finds himself grappling with a ring of powerful opponents -- from law enforcement agencies to the state Legislature to litigators -- who are imperiling the empire he built from scratch.
Detractors claim Dr. Trombetta has misused the public's money and engaged in a range of questionable business practices at his booming Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and affiliated entities. Those include the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, a $23.5 million jewel that sits across from Dr. Trombetta's office on the main drag of Midland, population 3,000.
Although it is not clear exactly what state Attorney General Tom Corbett Jr. is investigating, a statewide grand jury whose term recently ended heard testimony over several months about alleged financial shenanigans within Dr. Trombetta's network. Prosecutors are expected to continue presenting evidence to a new grand jury next month.

Conflict Of Interest Concerns Raised With Pa. Cyber
June 7, 2012 6:30 PM KDKA Reporting Andy Sheehan
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – To many, Nick Trombetta is a visionary who has launched the cyber school revolution in Pennsylvania and is a hero to graduates of Pa. Cyber.
“This day and more days like this are coming will embolden us to continue to fight the fight so that families in Pennsylvania will have the choice to choose a school the education they want,” Trombetta said.
Trombetta has built an empire with a building boom in Midland, Pennsylvania, a charter arts school and more. Pa. Cyber has spawned a number of successful ventures that develop and market online curriculum and foster cyber schools throughout the country.
It’s all to the dismay of neighboring school superintendents who claim they’re footing the bill.

Gov. Corbett To Ask Legislature To Reduce Cyber School Funding
June 8, 2012 9:16 PM KDKA Reporting Andy Sheehan
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A KDKA investigation is getting a response from Governor Tom Corbett.  Investigator Andy Sheehan questioned the performance and funding of cyber schools and whether some schools are getting money over and above the actual cost of educating a child online.
Gov. Corbett says it’s time to reduce the funding for cyber schools.

FBI, IRS search offices of Pennsylvania cyberschool
July 13, 2012 12:44 am
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Federal agents executed a series of search warrants Thursday at Pennsylvania Cyber School offices in Beaver County and at several other locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio in connection with an ongoing investigation that authorities would not specify.
Agents from the FBI, the criminal investigation division of the IRS and the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general's unit searched the school's executive office at 1200 Midland Ave. in Midland along with an accounting firm in Koppel and several other locations.

FBI Raids Office Of PA Cyber School Founder
July 12, 2012 6:16 PM KDKA Reporting Andy Sheehan
MIDLAND (KDKA) — The man who created a cyber school empire in Pennsylvania is now being investigated by the FBI.
Agents raided the PA Cyber Charter School office of Nick Trombetta.
Andy Sheehan: “Can you tell me what went on here?”
Investigators weren’t saying, but the FBI raided the administrative offices of PA Cyber and those of other ventures founded by Trombetta, the architect of a cyber school empire who has now courted a federal investigation.
When the agents raided Trombetta’s office and seized his computer. Sources say it is Trobetta and his business dealings that are the focus of this investigation.

Federal agents search PA Cyber offices
Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 12:53 pm | Updated: 6:17 pm, Thu Jul 12, 2012.
Beaver County Times Online By Bill Utterback and Eric Poole Calkins Media
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and two other federal agencies conducted a search today in the executive offices of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Pittsburgh office.
The statement said PA Cyber “as an entity, is not a current target of this investigation.”
FBI agents carrying federal search warrants were joined by representatives of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation division and the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Inspector General Investigation Services.
The Department of Justice statement did not identify the target of the investigation, or the purpose of the search at PA Cyber.

United States Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

Statement On Execution Of Federal Search Warrants


PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued the following statement today in response to media inquiries regarding searches conducted by federal agents on July 12, 2012:

"On Thursday, July 12, 2012, special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General Investigation Services, executed search warrants at several locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, including the executive offices of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, located at 1200 Midland Avenue, Midland, Pa., as part of an ongoing investigation.

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, as an entity, is not a current target of this investigation."

Editorial: PA Teacher evaluation must be uniform
Hazelton Standard Speaker Published: July 11, 2012
Tougher evaluation standards for Pennsylvania public school teachers are a good idea because the current standards provide little insight into the actual effectiveness of educators.
But the new standards passed last week by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett will need to be a work in progress, in several ways, if they ultimately are to be accurate, fair and comprehensive.
…….For as-yet unexplained reasons, the governor and lawmakers excluded from the new standards teachers in charter schools.  Those schools are public schools, funded by taxpayers. The level of accountability for teachers in those schools should be equal the level for teachers in conventional public schools.
The current Legislature and administration want more students to have access to charter schools, making the exemption from tough evaluations look oddly political.
Greater accountability is a worthy pursuit, but it must be uniform to be truly meaningful.

Are Charter Schools Public Schools?

Diane Ravitch’s Blog July 12, 2012
A reader from Pennsylvania asks whether charter schools are public schools if they seek to avoid transparency and if their teachers are not subject to the same evaluation scheme as public school teachers:

HB 2468: What The EITC Program Means For PA
Philadelphia Student Union Blog July 11, 2012
Unbeknownst to many Pennsylvanians on July 1st, House Bill 2468 passed and will spread the reach of Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and include a new scholarship program.   The EITC program provides tax subsidies to companies that contribute to non- profit organizations offering scholarships to students who attend private and religious schools or early childhood programs, or to organizations providing educational improvement activities.

Dan Denvir at the City Paper continues his good work tying the PA players, relationships and connections with EITC, school funding, big voucher money, funding and foundations, etc….
Posted: Thu, Jul. 12, 2012, 12:00 AM
Hostile Witness
Corbett's Class Warfare
Daniel Denvir City Paper
Class war is hell — at least, if you’re on the losing side. And under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, most Philadelphians are.
This is the peculiar moral logic of Pennsylvania’s new budget, signed June 30: Programs and services that benefit the poor, working and middle classes are being sacrificed on the altar of the no-new-taxes pledge Corbett signed with Washington anti-government power broker Grover Norquist. Under legislative pressure, Corbett rolled back some proposed cuts — rendering what had been a blueprint for devastation merely a ruinous assault on the public good.

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

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.

Interboro board cancels July meetings
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Delco Times By VINCE SULLIVAN @vincesullivan
PROSPECT PARK — A notice posted to the Interboro School District website Tuesday afternoon announced the cancellation of the board’s meetings scheduled for July 16 and 18.
Announcements were also posted at the district’s administration building. No reason for the cancellations was given in the announcements.
The cancellations come amid growing public concern over the state of the district after the resignations of five top-level administrators over the last three months, including Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hacker. The directors of human resources, facilities and maintenance, technology and finance have also resigned since April 18.

The Commonwealth Foundation has been a leading advocate for school choice in Pennsylvania.   Here’s their take on the status of school choice initiatives this year
Matt Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation was a member of Governor Corbett’s Education Transition team.
Commonwealth Foundation Policy Memo by NATHAN BENEFIELD JULY 11, 2012 | 
School Choice Expansion in Pennsylvania
The fiscal year 2012-13 state budget increases the Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $25 million to $100 million and creates a new $50 million tax credit for Opportunity Scholarships—effectively doubling in size the amount of money available to provide scholarships to help students escape violent and failing public schools and attend safer and better private schools.

Data and thoughts on public and private school funding in the U.S.
Moneyball, Superman, Angry Royals Fans and Education Reform?
School Finance 101 Blog Posted on July 11, 2012
These past few days have been interesting, as I’ve followed more than usual, the festivities around the Major League Baseball All Star Game. I’ve followed the festivities in part because the game was in Kansas City this year and I lived in the Kansas City ‘burbs for 11 years up until 2008. I’m an east coast guy – born & raised Vermonter, livin’ in Jersey – college in PA, masters in CT, Doc in NYC… also taught in NH. I love east coast cities, and I probably fit the typical east coast snob profile. But some of the events that went down this week at the ASG left me feeling a bit uneasy.  Now, even as a kid, I kind of like the Royals. They were pretty damn good when I was growing up, and had that cool stadium with the fountains. While we lived in KC, we went to quite a few games… ‘cuz tickets were cheap and accessible.[1]

e-school news July 11th, 2012
Education leaders share ‘Five Things I’ve Learned’ on new Pearson Foundation website
The Pearson Foundation has announced a new online project that aims to share the insights of education leaders whose efforts are improving outcomes for students. “Five Things I’ve Learned” chronicles personal lessons learned from decades of real-world experience, sharing proven practice and wisdom about learning, teaching, and helping others, the organization says.
Launched with the lessons from 54 contributors, the website will add new voices each week, with the goal of extending the dialogue about what is working for students, teachers, and the school systems and community organizations that support them.
The first set of contributors features the perspectives of public leaders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is now chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education; education association veterans, such as AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech and ISTE CEO Don Knezek; and education innovators such as Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth professor of learning technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
“Five Things I’ve Learned represents a milestone for the Pearson Foundation,” said Pearson Foundation President and CEO Mark Nieker. “I hope that, over time, Five Things I’ve Learned will collect more and more of the best new ideas in education.”

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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