At some point Jeb Bush will begin to be seen as what he truly is: a lobbyist and rainmaker for powerful education corporations. His so-called education summit earlier this fall read more like a sales seminar. The only professional educators and public school advocates around were outside protesting. But it is within the list of Bush’s foundation’s financial backers that introduces the topic of today’s post.
On-line education giant K12 Inc. is one of Bush’s corporate sponsors. A comprehensive New York Times report last weekend detailed K12 Inc.’s vast reach into the nation’s schools that isn’t so positive.
The business taps into a formidable coalition of private groups and officials promoting nontraditional forms of public education. The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost.
The New York Times has spent several months examining this idea, focusing on K12 Inc. A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.
Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.
Current and former staff members of K12 Inc. schools say problems begin with intense recruitment efforts that fail to filter out students who are not suited for the program, which requires strong parental commitment and self-motivated students. Online schools typically are characterized by high rates of withdrawal.
While the Times related instances of troubling K12 Inc. operations in Ohio, Colorado, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. But it doesn’t mention that dozens associated with K12 donated $44,000 supporting Idaho superintendent Tom Luna whose state did $12.8 million with their company in 2010. Bush campaigned for Luna’s brand of privatization this summer. The Times article prompted an eight percent drop in its stock this week.
Ron Packard, K12 Inc.’s CEO made $5 million this year. He is a member of Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Council. There are some other familiar names on Bush’s DLC that readers of this blog will recognize such as Patricia Levesque, then Virginia school boss Gerard Robinson and Florida state Sen. Aniteres Flores. Also on the list are Florida Virtual School’s Julie Young.
The associations are not illegal or unethical. But they are associations that occur repeatedly and represent a pattern. Even casual observers of Florida’s education policy battles knows about the close relationship between Levesque and Bush, but probably didn’t know that the organizations they front receive financial support from corporations like K12 Inc. who benefit from their efforts.
Revelations this summer that emails were deleted by the Rick Scott campaign included the production of letters that weren’t . One was a letter from Bush to Scott.
Bush’s e-mail was sent just days before Scott was sworn in on Jan. 4.
In two separate documents attached to the e-mail, Bush urged Scott to end one of the state’s pension plans, sell the Florida Virtual School and take his first trade mission to Brazil and Colombia. (Scott is traveling to Brazil in October.)
Bush, the state’s last two-term governor, also told his fellow Republican to “own the budget,” even though lawmakers are in charge of appropriating money.
“By aggressively dominating the budget, the Legislature will grouse but it brings order to the whole process for them to be working off your budget and agenda,” Bush said. “The budget drives policy.”
Some of Bush’s ideas were turned into state law this year, including a plan expand online education in public schools and another to put Medicaid patients into managed care. Scott supported both on the campaign.
What better way to make Florida Virtual School more attractive to his client, K12 Inc. than to push for an online class requirment? Bush’s suggestion to Scott to sell Virtual School wasn’t a throw away. Guys with his juice don’t make idle comments to governors in letters. Who can blame us skeptics for believing Bush was trying make something happen for one of his financial backers.