|Last November, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) rejected Virtual Preparatory Academy of Pennsylvania’s resubmitted application to create a new cyber charter school. This was not a close call. “While a single deficiency would be grounds to deny the application, the Department has again identified significant deficiencies for each criterion,” wrote PDE.
Virtual Prep is now appealing the Department’s decision to the Charter Schools Appeal Board as is their right under Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law. This same law allows the Appeals Board to supplement the record if the information was “previously unavailable.” A lot has happened since November and there are two important pieces of previously unavailable information that should be added to the record.
First, Richard Saccone, a member of Virtual Prep’s Board of Trustees, participated in the January 6th Capitol protests, raising new doubts about Virtual Prep’s leadership.
Saccone is a former state legislator and who ran for Congress and was narrowly defeated by Connor Lamb in 2019. His political activities took a different turn on January 6 when he traveled to Washington, stood in front of the Capitol and posted “We are storming the capitol. Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades. We will save this nation. Are u with me?” and “We are trying to run out all the evil people and RINOs that have betrayed our president.” and “We are going to run them out of their offices.”
Saccone deleted the accompanying video from his Facebook account, but nothing ever really stays deleted. He later resigned from his adjunct teaching position at Saint Vincent College after the school launched an investigation. The Charter Appeals Board should determine if Virtual Prep has asked for or received Saccone’s resignation and factor in this new information about leadership of the proposed cyber charter school.
Meanwhile, new information has come to light about how Accel Schools—Virtual Prep’s for-profit educational management organization—is failing students in Ohio.
Accel runs an Ohio cyber charter that received an astonishing 13 “F” grades on their most recent school report card. The Pennsylvania Department of Education previously decried the school’s performance as “woeful” and now new evidence has come to light that the Charter Appeals Board should add to the record.
First is the stunning fact that seven out of ten (71.5%) of Accel’s Ohio cyber charter students failed to spend the majority of the year at the school. Even allowing that cyber students may be more mobile than others, this new data clearly shows that Accel’s students are voting with their feet.
In addition, at the last hearing Virtual Prep suggested comparing Accel’s performance to the ten largest Ohio Districts to get a more complete picture. We took their suggestion to heart and discovered that every one of the ten largest Ohio districts outperformed the cyber school. Accel’s cyber was the only school in this group to receive an “F” grade.
Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law allows new applicants many bites at the apple. Virtual Prep initially applied in July 2019, was denied in January 2020, resubmitted in September, and was denied in November. Now they will go before the Charter Appeals Board in 2021.
Just a few hours after the attack on the Capitol was quelled (and Rick Saccone had left the Capitol grounds), U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said, “We witness today, the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth.” We urge the Charter Appeals Board to seek the truth and reject Virtual Prep’s appeal.