Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Scandalous Tennessee for-profit school has LA ties

A for-profit online school in Tennessee had the lowest results of any similar school in the state and should have been shut down. But because of a well-financed lobbying and public relations campaign, the school will continue to drain resources from public education in the state.

Why is this important to us in Louisiana? Because the Tennessee Virtual Academy’s parent company, K12 Inc., also runs the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy and virtual learning programs in a few parishes.
According to this report in The Nashville Tennessean, “students in the Tennessee Virtual Academy made less progress as a group in reading, math, science and social studies than students enrolled in all 1,300 other elementary and middle schools who took the same tests. The school fell far short of state expectations for the second year in a row.”

Louisiana used to have a successful and popular state-run program called the Louisiana Virtual School. It has been eliminated by the current administration, to be replaced by providers like K12 Inc.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy was declared “unacceptable” by state education officials nearly a year ago. When lawmakers attempted to rein in the school, K12 Inc. launched a campaign to save its funding.
To fight the legislation, K12 Inc. brought in both a high-powered Nashville lobbying firm and another one founded by the chief advisor to the governor of the state.

As a result of the intense campaign, The Tennessean reported, “the school stands to collect about $5 million in state funds this school year. Last year, the school took in an estimated $15 million.”

K12 Inc. has been at the center of other scandals as well. In Florida, according to this National Public Radio report, the Department of Education investigated K12 “over allegations the company uses uncertified teachers and asked employees to help cover up the practice...K12 officials told certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn’t taught, according to documents that are part of the investigation.”

In the extremely lucrative world of for-profit education companies, K12 is not the only shady player.  In Pennsylvania, the head of the state’s largest online schools is “alleged to have stolen nearly $1 million in public money and improperly diverted a total of $8 million to avoid federal income taxes,” according to this Education Week report.

No one doubts the potential benefits of virtual learning. But the way that states like Louisiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida and others have opened their treasuries to for-profit providers provides a tempting target for profiteers.

The Louisiana Virtual School was accomplishing its mission competently and scandal-free. Why would elected officials choose to replace it with a model that has ushered in vultures to pick the bones of public education?

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