School Choice & Charters

Problems With For-Profit Management of Pa. Cybers

By Benjamin Herold — November 03, 2016 1 min read

To understand how the problems with for-profit management of cyber charters have persisted over time, just look at Pennsylvania.

In 2002, the Morning Call newspaper of the Lehigh Valley reported on the “cautionary tale” of a cyber called Einstein Academy Charter. Almost immediately after launching Einstein, founder Mimi Rothschild reportedly contracted with a company called Tutorbots Inc., which she and her husband owned. The school quickly collapsed, but not before passing $2.3 million in taxpayer dollars on to Tutorbots, the Morning Call reported.

Fast-forward 14 years, and Pennsylvania papers were reporting that the founder of the 15,000-student PA Cyber Charter had admitted to a similar arrangement, but on a much grander scale. In pleading guilty to federal tax-fraud charges, Nicholas Trombetta acknowledged funneling $8 million in taxpayer funds from the cyber school he led to a network of private companies and organizations that he controlled. Federal prosecutors said Trombetta used the money to buy a Florida condo, houses for his girlfriend and mother, and a $300,000 airplane.

By now, the motivation of for-profit cyber operators isn’t exactly a secret, said Gary Miron of Western Michigan University.

What remains unclear, though, is what it might take to finally spur policymakers to rein the sector in.

“A first step would be to prohibit private education management organizations from purchasing influence from politicians and decision makers,” Miron said.

“Unfortunately, the current model was designed by those seeking to make a profit.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2016 edition of Education Week

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