Education: Charter school fraud demands accountability

It is no wonder that legislators in West Virginia and many other states are reluctant to approve taxpayer funding of charter schools. Two of our neighbors have demonstrated the potential pitfalls convincingly.

Last week, a long saga of charter school fraud in Pennsylvania came to an end. Nicholas Trombetta, of East Liverpool, Ohio, was sentenced to prison on a charge of conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

Trombetta, 63, founded an online school in the Keystone State. Then, about five years ago, he was charged with stealing about $8 million from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. It took this long for him to be sentenced.

Next door in Ohio, officials continue their efforts to recover about $80 million in public funding from the now-defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter school. It shut down earlier this year, amid a scandal in which ECOT raked in taxpayer funds for online students it could not prove it had.

In both states, officials have had to rethink governance of charter schools.

Clearly, little thought was given in Ohio to how charter schools, whether online or using traditional classrooms, would be held accountable.

Fortunately, that no longer is the case. Schools, both public and charter, are monitored more closely than in the past. That is how it should have been all along.

Charter schools are worth considering because they can improve the general quality of education — within limits. But officials in any state considering public funding of them should look to the initial programs in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states as excellent examples of how not to do it.

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