Three kinds of schools in Beaver County to be audited, evaluated

Nov 17, 2015 by

In recent months, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s staff has performed concurrent audits of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, the Midland School District and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in hopes of providing a comprehensive look at how the entities spend their money.

All of the schools are located within blocks of each other in Midland, Beaver County, but each represents a different education entity — a traditional public school with grades K-8, a K-12 cyber charter school and a 7-12 brick-and-mortar charter school.

At the conclusion of the audits, which are normal school audits, Mr. DePasquale plans a comparative report on costs versus educational outcomes.

“We want to look at their costs and see if there are true differences in education outcomes,” Mr. DePasquale said.

He said the idea to do the concurrent audits and draw comparisons came during a brainstorming session of his staff several months ago. “We wanted to see what happens when we look at all three at the same time.”

The auditor general said his hope is that the findings will be helpful to legislators who are considering an examination and possible changes to charter school funding formulas.

“The first goal is to get a comprehensive view of what each entity is doing. Then see what that could lead to legislatively,” Mr. DePasquale said.

One item in the PA Cyber audit that has caught the eye of the auditor general is a $36 million expenditure on curriculum purchased from Lincoln Learning Solutions, formerly the National Network of Digital Schools. NNDS was created by PA Cyber founder Nick Trombetta, who has been indicted on charges of hiding income from the IRS.

Mr. Trombetta is no longer affiliated with Lincoln Learning, said Christine Zarek, a spokeswoman for PA Cyber. Ms. Zarek said PA Cyber has purchased curriculum from NNDS or Lincoln Learning since its inception and that “it’s a prudent expenditure.”

Mr. DePasquale said he heard complaints from some PA Cyber teachers that the Lincoln Learning curriculum is not adequate and that they supplement it with their own curriculum. But he has not investigated the purchase enough to determine if it is inappropriate,

As for the concurrent audits, Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said he hopes the auditor general makes “apples to apples” comparisons. But, he said, that could be hard to do since cyberschools have a student population that is different from most traditional public schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

“A lot of students go into the cyberschool because they are failing in a district and this is their last hope,” Mr. Fayfich said. In addition, he said, students often stay in cyberschool for a year at a time, which is not enough time to bring them up to proficient scores on their state exams. “You can’t compare a cyberschool kid who has been there a year to a kid who has been in another school for three to four years,” Mr. Fayfich said.

Those concerns aside, Mr. Fayfich said his organization supports a thorough examination of costs between brick-and-mortar schools and cyber schools as proposed in House Bill 530. The bill, which passed the state House in March and is in the Senate Appropriations committee, calls for the creation of a charter school funding advisory commission.

Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said he welcomed a comparison between brick-and-mortar schools and cyber schools because “they don’t have the same costs.”

Source: Three kinds of schools in Beaver County to be audited, evaluated | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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