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Business interests influencing education laws in Virginia, report says

Ohanian Comment: Kudos to Michael Alison Chandler for noticing this effort by ProgressVA to detail the growing footprint that ALEC has in Virginia, and across the country, including its unprecedented access to elected officials and the drafting of 'model' education policy designed to benefit ALEC's corporate funders which compliant lawmakers then push into law.

From the introduction to Alec v Kids: ALEC's Assault On Public Education:

ALEC’s Education Task Force combined companies profiting, or seeking profits from public
education, and radical think tanks seeking to slash funding for public education, or privatize it altogether. There will always be a market for goods and services related to education, and there will always be a need to enact policy changes to improve education. The policies of ALEC's Education Task Force prioritize profit over results, secrecy over accountability, and cuts over kids.

The report includes state stories on Florida, Utah, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Michigan, and Iowa.

Some tidbits of note:

  • Wireless Generation, rebranded as Amplify, was announced as a new member of ALEC's Education Task force at the May, 2012 ALEC convention, where ALEC debated the model bill,"Online Course Choice For Students."

  • Studies question the efficacy of the education provided by K12 Inc.: notably only 27.7% of K12 Inc. schools make adequate yearly
    progress—a national metric of measuring student achievement—and this figure is merely half
    nearly half the rate achieved by public face-
    to-face schools. The on-time graduation rate for K12 Inc. schools is49.1%, compared to 79.4% for all students in the states in which K12 Inc. operates. While K12 Inc. schools are far behind traditional schools in performance, they also have fewer students qualifying for free-or-reduced-lunch, fewer students with disabilities, fewer ELL students, and fewer minority students. K12 Inc. is, however,very profitable; in 2012 K12 Inc. experienced a 35% increase in revenue to more than $700million.

  • And so on and so on.

    By Michael Alison Chandler

    Education policies approved in Virginia over the past four years to establish virtual schools and give businesses tax credits for needy students to attend private schools are among many laws that have been promoted by a conservative advocacy group that represents business interests, according to a study released last week.

    The report by a liberal advocacy group describes efforts by the Arlington-based American Legislative Exchange Council, which has a membership of legislators and corporations, to pass laws that divert public education funds to private companies.

    "Virginians need to know who is representing [them], and how cozy their lawmakers are with the for-profit education industrial complex," said Anna Scholl, executive director of the ProgressVA Education Fund, based near Charlottesville, which authored the study with a network of eight other state-based organizations.

    Lindsay Russell, director of the Task Force on Education for ALEC, said in a statement that the group is a "nonpartisan nonprofit because we realize to produce the best outcomes for students, it is necessary to welcome collaboration from all schools of thought. Our members, public and private, take very seriously their responsibility to provide the best opportunities to prepare our children for successful futures."

    It's not uncommon for advocacy groups to lobby on behalf of their interests and even to participate in drafting legislation.

    ProgressVa published another report in 2012 that found more than 50 bills proposed in Virginia's General Assembly that ALEC lobbied for or helped author in recent years, including measures on health care, voting rights, taxes, and education.

    It also identified at least 115 current or former lawmakers with ties to the group, including House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) who was ALEC's national chairman in 2009.

    The new report, ALEC v. Kids: ALEC's Assault On Public Education, describes how K12, Inc., a Herndon-based online learning company and a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force, benefitted from the group’s advocacy. The General Assembly in 2010 passed a virtual school law that was co-sponsored by ALEC members and reflected a legislative priority of the organization.

    The company then became the operator of the state's largest full-time statewide virtual school through a partnership with the rural Carroll County public school system.

    That virtual school subsequently came under scrutiny because of a loop hole that allowed the company to collect a larger share of state per pupil funding than many of its students would receive if they attended their local public schools in other counties.

    Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12, Inc., said the company participates with "a lot of different education organizations that discuss and talk about education policy and digital learning."

    "We are the leading provider [of full-time virtual schools] in the country, so that would be an appropriate role for us," he said.

    The Carroll County school board voted this spring to discontinue its partnership with the company, citing administrative and liability concerns

    — Michael Alison Chandler
    Washington Post





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