As this 2016 regular legislative session winds down (and none too soon), there is a last minute flurry by contract lobbyists to alter some education bills in order to sweeten the potential of money flowing to their clients.
In this case we’re talking about the giant on-line virtual school company known as K12 Inc. that is represented at the Statehouse by Toby Roth, former chief of staff for Governor Bob Riley and John Hagood, former staff attorney for several state agencies.
In recent years this company has faced an onslaught of criticism. Its last stockholders meeting was picketed by employees of one of its own virtual charter schools; while stockholders rejected a pay proposal for company management per advice of a governance advisory firm. K12 also faced an investigation by the California Attorney General.
CEO Nathaniel Davis was paid $5.3 million in 2015. (He was paid $9.5 million in 2013) CFO James Rhyu received $3.6 million in 2015
An extensive study released last fall done collaboratively by Stanford University’s Center for Research of Educational Outcomes; the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington; and Mathematica Policy Research was especially damning to virtual charter schools such as those operated by K12.
In short, researchers found that virtual school students fall significantly behind their counterparts in traditional schools in academic achievement, the dropout rate is excessively high and the graduation rate very low.
There are about 200,000 students in 200 online charter schools in the U.S.
A 2013 report by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado looked at only students in KI12 virtual charters. This report stated: “Children who enroll in a K12 Inc. cyberschool, who receive full-time instruction in front of a computer instead of in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, are more likely to fall behind in reading and math. These children are also more likely to move between schools or leave school altogether–and the cyberschool is less likely to meet Federal education standards.”
The legislature passed a virtual school bill in 2015 Most systems are still working toward implementing this legislation. But never one to leave well enough alone and give something an opportunity to work, we’ve now come back with more virtual school legislation in this session.
The bill in question, SB229, was sponsored by Senator Dick Brewbaker. The substitute for it, which has passed committee and moved to the full House, is sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the House education policy committee.
This time we claim the new bill “would clarify existing law and provide additional guidance for the local school system….’
Nowhere does it mention that it is contract lobbyists–not educators–pushing for clarification. They are hoping to pass a bill that will allow a school system to set up a virtual school system and get paid for ALL students who sign up, regardless of where they live.
Virtual students are funded by the state as if they were sitting in a classroom with a teacher and other students. However, since there is basically little overhead to accommodate such students, this set up can be a wind fall as there is no transportation costs, building upkeep. lunchroom expenses, etc.
So the system gets in the virtual school business and contracts its operation to a private vendor such as K12. And the more students they can poach from other systems, the bigger the payoff. A sweet deal–unless you are the system who is losing students and funding.
Another angle to all of this is that former Lt. Governor Steve Windom and former legislator and Governor Bentley advisor Blaine Galliher also represent clients with education ties. One being Oracle Corporation, a company specializing in developing and marketing database software and technology. A company with revenues of $38 billion in 2015.
Legislation sponsored earlier this session by Rep. Collins will create a statewide longitudinal data system to track student data. This bill is yet to pass the senate. Obviously this is something Oracle would be interested in.
Windom and Galliher also represent Connections Education LLC which is also in the virtual school business offering learning plans, curriculum, teachers and an online learning platform for students.
(Roth and Hagood also represent Teach for America in Alabama. There is a $572,000 line item in the just=passed Education Trust Fund for TFA.)
It is also worth noting that according to followthemoney.org, Windom has contributed more than $500,000 to various political campaigns in recent years. This includes at least $16,000 to Bob Riley’s Alabama 2014 political action committee.
You can’t go to the Alabama Statehouse without seeing yellow school buses hauling eager young students to watch their legislators in action. Little do they know about what is really going on.