Wednesday, August 28, 2013
It has been a summer of bad news for cyber charters. Earlier this summer, I posted abote three states ending or curtailing their cyber charters. LaJuana also posted on increased scrutiny and reports detailing problems with cyber charters. Now the news has only gotten worse. In Pennsylvania, a state where cyber charters have possibly been the most contentious, federal investigators have secured an indictment against Nicholas Trombetta, the operator of the biggest cyber charter in the state. His charter enrolled over 10,000 students and yielded $100 million in revenue in 2012 from the state. The indictment accuses him of creating a ponzi scheme of sorts in which he created various different fake businesses and entities for the purpose of extracting funds for his and others' personal benefit. In total, the indictment includes 11 fraud and tax charges, which total $1 million of theft from the state.
The indictment will only fan the flame of controversy in the state. Cribbing from the Post-Gazette:
"So we've been vindicated then," said Karen D. Beyer, a former state Republican legislator who for years raised concerns about cyber charter school funding in general and Mr. Trombetta in particular. "I'm so delighted. Look, the taxpayers had an opportunity and the Legislature had an opportunity with that cyber charter bill to control this years ago, and they failed to act and now we're seeing the results of that."
The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment and instead issued a statement through the state Department of Education, saying Gov. Tom Corbett "renews his call for comprehensive charter school reform."
To be fair, schemes of this sort are not unique to charters. Some may recall similarly egregious kick back schemes by superintendents like Prince George County, Maryland's a few years ago. But as suggested in my earlier posts, the incentives for bad behavior, whether it be fraud or just low quality services, appear to run high in cyber schools.