Chunks of the revenue the charter company is generating (in part by means of education tax dollars) are not going back into actual classrooms with teachers for their students but into electrifyingly sexy capital projects at big payouts for developers and politicians:
JOHN TULENKO (reporter): Last year, Nick Trombetta earned $163,000. However, since its founding in 2000, P.A. Cyber has collected a total of $45 million in profit.
And the question is, what is P.A. Cyber doing with leftover money?
NICK TROMBETTA (charter school CEO): Well, we're investing it back into research and development. We're investing it back into our program. We're investing it to multiple centers across the state to serve more children. We're investing that back into P.A. Cyber.
TULENKO: Most of the money has been spent within a 12-block area of tiny Midland, Pa., a former steel mill town where P.A. Cyber is based.
To critics, hiring more teachers and creating more live courses would have made better use of taxpayers' education dollars, but Trombetta defends his choice.
TROMBETTA: We do need buildings for our employees. I mean, it costs money to lease them. It costs money to build them. And the dollars that we do receive, we were able to squirrel away some dollars over the course of the years and invest in that.
TULENKO: P.A. Cyber also spun off its own not-for-profit business, developing online curriculum to sell across the country.
Together, the nonprofit and the school have grown to employ 694 people in what was a dying steel town.
TROMBETTA: We decided to create a new industry. And it was an industry that replaced the old. And you're right, and it was to create opportunities for children across this commonwealth and across the United States. This has been huge for this area.
TULENKO: The town's comeback even earned it a nickname, the Midland miracle, though not everyone believes.
RON SOFO (public school superintendent): Wait a minute. I didn't know that public schools and the funding of public schools should be an economic development strategy for one small section of one county. I don't think that's the purpose of public education in this commonwealth or in America.
Economic development has become the be-all and end-all. Quality and culture and education are no longer intrinsically good. Instead, their value is only determined by the wealth maximized and the power generated. And charter schools are the latest vehicle of economic development, which is why they ultimately fail in frameworks and lifeworlds where education is inherently good.