How can we improve the performance and accountability of Pennsylvania cyber charters?

If it sometimes seems like “tuition-free” cyber charter ads are running non-stop, consider that in just one year your tax dollars paid for 19,298 local TV commercials for Agora Cyber Charter, just one of Pennsylvania’s 13 cyber charters.  And far from being tuition-free, total cyber tuition paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was $393.5 million, $398.8 million and $436.1 million respectively.

Those commercials were very effective, especially if you were an executive at K12, Inc., a for-profit company contracted to manage the cyberschool.  According to Agora’s 2013 IRS filing, it paid $69.5 million that year to K12, Inc.  According to Morningstar, total executive compensation at K12 in 2013 was $21.37 million.

Not so effective for kids or taxpayers, though.  What the ads don’t tell you is that they are paid for using your school tax dollars instead of those funds being spent in classrooms, and that academic performance at every one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has been consistently dismal.  While the PA Dept. of Education considers a score of 70 to be passing, Agora’s PA School Performance Profile (SPP) scores for 2013, 2014 and 2015 were 48.3, 42.4 and 46.4.

In fact, not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in any of the three years that the SPP has been in effect.  Additionally, most PA cybers never made adequate yearly progress during all the years (2005-2012) that the federal No Child Left Behind law was in effect.  While cybers may be a great fit for some kids, overall they have been an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars drawn from all 500 school districts without any authorization by those districts.  Unlike brick and mortar charter schools which must be authorized by their local school district, cyber charters were authorized, and are ostensibly overseen by the state Dept. of Education.

Even if the cyber’s SPP score is 50 points less than a school district school, locally elected school boards have virtually no discretion when it comes to paying cyber tuition bills.  If they don’t pay the cyber school the Department of Education will draft their account.

These poor results are reflected in national studies.  Stanford University reported that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact,” showing severe shortfalls in reading and math achievement.  The shortfall for most cyber students, they said, was equal to losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days in math during the typical 180-day school year.  In math it is as if they did not go to school at all.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group based in Washington, said the findings were so troubling that the report should be “a call to action for authorizers and policymakers.”

What can Pennsylvania policymakers do to improve the performance and accountability of our cyber charters?  Here are some possibilities for our legislators to consider as they return from summer break.

Consider cyber charter reform separately from brick and mortar charter school reform legislation.  Charter reform has proven to be a very tough nut to crack.  There seems to be increasing agreement that cyber education as presently configured is not working for most of our students or our taxpayers.

Consider closing some of the most persistently underperforming cybers with scores in the 20s, 30s and 40s and have their students transfer to one of the better performing schools.  One of the tenets of school choice is supposed to be that failing schools would be closed.

Consider funding cyber education via a separate dedicated budget line instead of tuition payments from school districts.  These schools are already authorized by the state department of ed, not by school boards.

Consider providing PDE with the staffing and resources needed to effectively oversee the cyber charters that they have authorized.

Consider the recommendations of the PA Auditor General’s June 2012 special report on Charter and Cyber Charter Education Funding Reform. http://www.paauditor.gov/Media/Default/Reports/CyberCharterSpecialReport201206.pdf

Consider the recommendations of the PA Special Education Funding Commission’s December 2013 report that calls for using three funding categories based upon the intensity of services required to meet special education students’ needs.

In 2014-15 cyber charters reportedly received over $100 million more in special education tuition payments than they actually spent on special education services.

http://www.elc-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/SpecialEducationFundingCommissionReport_12_11_13.pdf

Consider requiring all ads for cyber charters to clearly state that the ads are paid for using school tax dollars and to clearly state the cyber charter’s SPP score and the fact that a score of 70 is considered passing.

Consider creating a centralized marketing website at PDE instead of having cyber charters spend tax dollars on ads.  This site would link to the websites for each of the state’s cyber schools.

A blog posting entitled “Can-policymakers-fix-what-ails-online-charter-schools? by Dara Zeehandelaar and Michael J. Petrilli recommended three strategies for improving online schools:

(1) Consider adopting performance-based funding for e-schools.  When students complete courses successfully and demonstrate that they have mastered the expected competencies, cybers schools would get paid. This creates incentives for cybers to focus on what matters most—academic progress—while tempering their appetite for enrollment growth and the dollars tied to it. It would also encourage them to recruit students likely to succeed in an online environment.

(2) Policy makers should seek ways to improve the fit between students and e-schools. It seems that students selecting cyber schools may be those least likely to succeed in a school format that requires independent learning, self-motivation, and self-regulation.  Lawmakers could explore rules that exempt cyber schools from policies requiring all charters, virtual ones included, to accept every student who applies and instead allow cybers to operate more like magnet schools with admissions procedures and priorities.

(3) Policy makers should support online course choice, so that students interested in web-based learning can avail themselves of online options without enrolling full-time in a cyber charter. This might include encouraging students to use their own school districts’ programs if their school district or intermediate unit offers cyber education.

Cyber charters were intended to be a better alternative to traditional schools that were deemed as failing.  Over 10 years later that has consistently proven not to be the case.  We have spent over $1 billion in tax dollars on cyber tuition in Pennsylvania in just the past three years.  Our students and taxpayers deserve better.

Lawrence A. Feinberg of Ardmore is serving in his 17th year as a school director in Haverford Township.  He is the founder and a co-chairman of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

Agora Cyber Charter announces layoffs

Updated:February 16, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST

by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer

Agora, the second-largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania with 8,500 students across the state, has laid off dozens of teachers and staffers.

Officials at the cyber school, headquartered in King of Prussia, said they did not have a total for the number of employees let go Friday, but blamed the layoffs on Gov. Wolf and the state budget impasse.

“The Commonwealth’s failure to pass a budget necessitated that Agora make a substantial number of layoffs to survive,” Agora said in a statement issued Monday night.

Current and laid-off employees, however, said that their tallies indicated that more than 100 people were laid off, and possibly as many as 150.

Employees also said they were blindsided by the move.

Nearly two months ago, Agora assured staff that it had the resources to weather the budget impasse and that layoffs were not being considered.

“We have no plans to cut or furlough staff due to the lack of funds we are currently receiving,” Mary Steffey, chair of the Agora board, wrote Dec. 18 in an email to all 649 staff members. “Please do not fear for your position here at Agora.”

One teacher, who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of reprisal, said, “Teachers didn’t even know there was a chance of layoffs.”

Questions also remained how a cyber with revenues of $122.7 million and a $13.4 million fund balance could find itself in such financial straits that it has been forced to let go as many as 15 percent of its workforce.

“Even if the school is not getting the money in, we had that surplus,” Sara Atkins, a mother in Wynnewood who has four special-needs children enrolled at Agora, said Monday. “The classes were already huge.”

She and others said pink slips went to nearly every kindergarten teacher, and many of the family coaches. Major cuts were reported in social studies, science, physical education, arts, music, and elective classes in the high school.

In its statement, Agora said its decision to cut staff came after “all other options [had] been exhausted.”

“In December the budget framework was on the table in Harrisburg, and it appeared the funds would soon be again flowing to districts and charters alike. At the time we had a line of credit, but temporary funds can only last so long. The holidays came and the budget discussions fell apart, plunging schools like ours into desperation,” the statement read.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789@marwooda

Agora teachers vote to unionize

by Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITER

Teachers at Agora Cyber Charter School – the second largest cyber in the state – have voted overwhelmingly to become unionized, a new local affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association announced late Tuesday afternoon.

The National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia, which tallied the mail ballots, said that teachers at the cyber based in King of Prussia had voted 312-46 in favor of being represented by the Agora Cyber Education Association.

Union organizers said that the vote came after a 10-month campaign that focused on changes to working conditions without notice and lack of teacher involvement in decisions about curriculum, classroom objectives or learning conditions for students.

“The teachers have demonstrated through this election that it’s time for change at Agora,” said Jill Phillips, chair of the middle school social studies department and member of the organizing committee.

“It’s time to work alongside administration and achieve a contract that ensures everyone is on the same page and we are doing what is best for our students,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Agora did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Union organizers said they will hold a transition meeting, elect officers and begin work on collective bargaining.

In early February, the Agora board had laid off scores of teachers, citing financial problems it blamed on the lack of a state budget.

The board initially refused to say how many staffers were let go, but in a Feb. 29 letter to parents and staff said that 136 jobs had been eliminated for a savings of $4.5 million.

Agora enrolls 8,500 students across the state who receive online instruction in their homes.

Teachers at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, Pa., are also unionized.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda

Pa. warns Agora Cyber: Provide accurate data – or else

Updated:May 19, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT

by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has delivered a stark warning to Agora Cyber Charter School, the state’s second-largest online charter, which has had troubles throughout this academic year.

A top department official told the school it must provide accurate data on student testing and attendance by May 27, or the department “will take appropriate actions against the school.”

Agora, based in King of Prussia, with 8,500 students statewide, has been trying to obtain a five-year renewal of its operating agreement from the department since October 2014.

According to a letter obtained by the Inquirer, David Volkman, the department’s executive deputy secretary, notified Agora’s CEO on Monday of “very serious data quality issues.”

The data problems, Volkman wrote, “have far-reaching implications and appear to be another symptom of Agora’s ongoing operational issues.”

Nicole Reigleman, a spokeswoman for the department, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the department had sent the letter to Agora “outlining issues with the accuracy and integrity of its data.”

She said the department “will consider many factors when determining the status of Agora’s charter renewal.”

Joann Gigliotti, an Agora spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the school had received an electronic copy of the letter Monday.

“We are currently working on the data requested,” she said in an email. “We feel confident that we will be able to deliver what [the department] is requesting by their deadline.”

Gigliotti noted that Agora’s application for a new charter was submitted 17 months ago. “We do not believe [the department’s] request is related to the renewal,” she said.

She also blamed the data problems on incomplete demographic information that was not in the format the department needed.

“As such, we are gathering additional information from our families, who have been very responsive to our requests,” Gigliotti said.

In his letter, Volkman said his department had been troubled by continuing problems at Agora since a meeting with the school’s officials in late February.

Volkman said the data issues affect Agora’s ability to meet state and federal reporting requirements, which could jeopardize the school’s federal funding. He said problems with Agora’s data also interfere with the department’s ability to meet its obligations.

Volkman said the problems with recording attendance raise concerns about whether Agora is submitting accurate bills to school districts and is billing for students who are no longer enrolled, and whether students are receiving the education to which they are entitled.

He said the department was aware that Agora had contracted with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit for help in resolving attendance and billing discrepancies. “The data issues, however, are deep, pervasive, and entrenched in the school’s operations,” Volkman said.

He ordered the school to provide results of state testing and 11th-grade academic data, and to review prior data it had sent to the department for “accuracy and integrity.”

The cyber school has been beset with controversy this academic year.

Since last August, Agora has been led by a series of top administrators and has experienced turnover on its board.

In early February, Agora laid off scores of staffers, blaming its financial problems on the lack of a state budget at that time.

Agora’s board initially refused to say how many staffers lost their jobs. But in a Feb. 29 letter to parents and staff, Agora said 136 jobs were eliminated for a savings of $4.5 million.

Last week, Agora’s teachers voted, 312-46, to be represented by a new local affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda

More Coverage

Published: May 18, 2016 — 5:00 PM EDT
| Updated:May 19, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT


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Pa. seeks financial, contract info from Agora Cyber Charter

Updated:May 24, 2016 — 6:39 PM EDT

by Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITER martha.woodall@phillynews.com @marwooda

The state Department of Education has expanded the scope of information that the Agora Cyber Charter School must provide by a deadline Friday.

A May 20 letter obtained by the Inquirer shows the department has directed the virtual charter based in King of Prussia to turn over detailed information about its finances, contracts and consultants.

Spokeswomen for the department and Agora confirmed the letter Tuesday.

The communication follows a May 16 letter in which the department told the charter with 8,500 students to submit accurate data on testing and attendance by the deadline or the department “will take appropriate actions against the school.”

The letters express the department’s growing impatience with Agora. Officials have been pressing the cyber for information about its operations since it laid off scores of employees in February without informing the state.

David W. Volkman, the department’s executive deputy secretary, wrote both letters.

He has told Agora that its problems providing requested information appear to be “another symptom of Agora’s ongoing operational issues.”

Since last August, Agora has been led by four leaders and experienced turnover on its board.

Last week, the current three-member board voted to retain Jon Marsh, the former CEO of 21st Century Cyber in Downingtown, to manage the school’s day-to-day operations and be an advisor.

In Volkman’s most recent letter, he asked Agora for monthly financial reports for this fiscal year; copies of contracts negotiated after Jan. 1 and copies of contracts with all independent consultants hired since Jan. 1, including Marsh.

JoAnn Gigliotti, an Agora spokeswoman, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the cyber was working to deliver the data and financial records the department requested.

The cyber has been seeking a five-year renewal of its operating agreement from the Education Department since October 2014. The department oversees Agora and the other 12 cyber charters, which provide online instruction to students in their homes.

“The department is continuing its comprehensive review of Agora Cyber Charter School as required to evaluate the school’s charter renewal,” a department spokeswoman said.

Agora is the second-largest cyber in the state. Its proposed budget for the current fiscal year of $110.2 million was based on an enrollment of 9,140 students, which it did not reach. The revenue comes primarily from taxpayer-funded tuition paid by students’ home districts.

Volkman has said that Agora’s problems recording student attendance raise concerns about whether the cyber is submitting accurate invoices to school districts and is billing for students who are no longer enrolled.

He also said that Agora’s data issues affect its ability to meet state and federal reporting requirements, which could jeopardize federal funding.

Many current and former Agora parents and staffers say some of Agora’s recent problems stem from the end of its management contract with K12 Inc., the for-profit company in Herndon, Va.

In 2014 the board voted to end K12’s management contract and said that Agora would begin managing itself in 2015-16.

According to some parents and teachers, Agora was not ready for the transition. They said numerous problems developed with the systems and software the cyber purchased to replace the technology that K12 had provided.

Volkman’s most recent letter asks for copies of contracts Agora awarded or renegotiated after Jan. 1 related to the cyber’s transition to self-management.

Pa. seeks more data from Agora Cyber Charter

Updated:May 25, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT

by Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITER martha.woodall@phillynews.com

The state Department of Education has expanded the scope of information that the Agora Cyber Charter School must provide by Friday.

A letter dated last Friday and obtained by the Inquirer shows the department has directed the virtual charter, based in King of Prussia, to turn over detailed information about its finances, contracts, and consultants.

Spokeswomen for the department and Agora confirmed the letter Tuesday.

The communication follows a May 16 letter in which the department told the charter, with 8,500 students, to submit accurate data on testing and attendance by the deadline or the department “will take appropriate actions against the school.”

The letters express the department’s growing impatience with Agora. Officials have been pressing the cyber for information about its operations since it laid off scores of employees in February without informing the state.

David W. Volkman, the department’s executive deputy secretary, wrote both letters.

He has told Agora that its problems providing requested information appear to be “another symptom of Agora’s ongoing operational issues.”

Since last August, Agora has been led by four leaders and experienced turnover on its board.

Last week, the current three-member board voted to retain Jon Marsh, the former CEO of 21st Century Cyber in Downingtown, to manage the school’s day-to-day operations and be an adviser.

In Volkman’s most recent letter, he asked Agora for monthly financial reports for this fiscal year, copies of contracts negotiated after Jan. 1, and copies of contracts with all independent consultants hired since Jan. 1, including Marsh.

JoAnn Gigliotti, an Agora spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday that the school was working to deliver the data and financial records the department requested.

The school has been seeking a five-year renewal of its operating agreement from the Education Department since October 2014. The department oversees Agora and the 12 other cyber charters, which provide online instruction to students in their homes.

“The department is continuing its comprehensive review of Agora Cyber Charter School as required to evaluate the school’s charter renewal,” a department spokeswoman said.

Agora is the second-largest cyber charter in the state. Its proposed budget for the current fiscal year of $110.2 million was based on enrollment of 9,140 students, which it did not reach. The revenue comes primarily from taxpayer-funded tuition paid by students’ home districts.

Volkman has said that Agora’s problems recording student attendance raise concerns about whether the cyber is submitting accurate invoices to school districts and is billing for students who are no longer enrolled.

He also said that Agora’s data issues affect its ability to meet state and federal reporting requirements, which could jeopardize federal funding.

Many current and former Agora parents and staffers say some of Agora’s recent problems stem from the end of its management contract with K12 Inc., a for-profit company in Herndon, Va.

In 2014, the board voted to end K12’s management contract and said Agora would begin managing itself in 2015-16.

According to some parents and teachers, Agora was not ready for the transition. They said numerous problems developed with the systems and software the school purchased to replace the technology that K12 had provided.

Volkman’s most recent letter asks for copies of contracts Agora awarded or renegotiated after Jan. 1 related to the transition to self-management.

K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) Reports Bad News, But Blames Contract Changes

0

The management of K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) has attempted to explain why its headline result for F3Q2016 couldn’t match a similar quarter last year: changes in a major client account. Revenue in F3Q2016 as well as in the nine months to March 2016 fell compared to a similar period a year earlier because of the same reason.

The affected client account was that of Agora Cyber Charter School. K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) said that contracted moved to Non-managed from Managed program, thus causing revenue disruption.

What was the report for 1Q?

K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN)’s F3Q2016 revenue of $221.3 million marked a pullback from $224.6 million in a similar quarter a year ago. Non-GAAP EBITDA of $36.7 million also fell from $45.2 million in the previous year.

Almost all of K12’s key financial metrics fell in the latest quarter compared to a year ago because operating income of $19.1 million was down from $27.4 million in 1Q2015. Net income attributable to common shareholders contracted to $14.3 million from $17 million and diluted EPS attributable to common shareholders shrunk to $0.37 from $0.45.

What about the nine months to end of March?

The narrative was largely the same. Revenue of $651.4 million in the first nine months of F2016 was down from $712.6 million in the first nine months of F2015. Non-GAAP EBITDA of $64 million pulled back from $87 million and operating income of $13.4 million sharply down from $34.7 million.

K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) further reported that net income attributable to common shareholders of $10 million was down from $22.6 million in the initial nine months of F2015. The same story went for diluted EPS attributable to shareholders that came in at $0.26 relative to $0.60 in the initial nine months of F2015.

Performance in line with expectations

Despite the pullback in both the results of F3Q2016 and the first nine months of F2015, CEO, Stuart Udell, insisted that the company continues to achieve results according to its guidance for the year. Perhaps that is another way of saying that the transition of the Agora Cyber Charter School contract was expected and had been baked in the projections for the year.

What about the future?

For F4Q2016, K12 Inc. (NYSE:LRN) is looking for revenue in the band of $205 to $215 million. Operating income for the quarter is expected to be between $5 million and $9 million.

Why K12 Inc. Stock Fell 22% in October

The for-profit educator continues to struggle in 2015.

What: Shares of childhood educator K12 Inc(NYSE:LRN) were sent to the principal’s office last month, falling 22% according to data from S&P Capital IQ. As the chart below shows, the stock skidded late in the month following an unimpressive earnings report.

LRN data by YCharts

So what: The school-aged curriculum provider posted first quarter revenue of $221.2 million, down 6% from a year ago, but that drop was largely due to the Agora Cyber School’s shift from a managed curriculum to a non-managed curriculum. More importantly, K12 posted a loss of $0.34 per share for the summer months, which are typically loss-generating for the company, worse than an expected $0.30 shortfall. Another warning sign was that overall enrollment fell by about 7,000 in the quarter, or 5%.

As the for-profit college industry has crumbled, pressure on K12 stock has increased, and the stock now trades at an all-time low. What was once a high-growth company is on the decline as skepticism about for-profit education has spread quickly.

Now what: Revenue growth at K12 has flatlined, and even after lapping the Agora shift next year, analysts are only expecting a 4% increase in sales. The decline in K12 stock has made its valuation much more reasonable at a price-to-earnings around 15 times, but the company will need to show it can deliver profitable growth before shares move higher. Revenue guidance for the next quarter at $205 to $215 million is in line with expectations, but it remains unclear how management plans to return the company to growth. Earnings per share are expected to fall by more than half, in part due to the loss of Agora as a managed program, but that was because the school did not make adequate yearly progress according to No Child Left Behind.

As the government continues to crack down on underperforming for-profit schools, the potential for another such development remains. Until K12 can reassure investors that its schools are delivering positive results, the company is unlikely to find significant growth, and the stock will remain mired in the single digits. 

Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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The High Price of For-Profit Education and Jeb Bush

Profits ahead of education: Bloomberg news has an extensive article on K12 Inc. and the myriad problems that their charter schools are facing across the country. The article even features a former marketing director of K12 Inc., who goes on the record with criticism about the company putting profits ahead of education. The former executive, Houston Tucker makes an allegation made by public education advocates for years that K12's brand of digital learning is focused on profits and not serving the 130,000 students that it's supposed to serve. The article goes on to describe how the focus of the schools is marketing and recruiting new students to make up for the churn as kids are pulled, or just churn out of their schools. Tucker even pulled his kids K12 Inc.'s school in Tennessee because teachers weren't able to provide individualized instruction.

“In the early years, K12's mission was something to rally around,” Tucker said. “It was brand new in the world of education. The K12 I joined isn't the one I left.”

Tucker, the former K12 marketing director, said that one of his sons had scant feedback from his teacher at Tennessee Virtual. The school put profit ahead of education, said Tucker. He now works as a consultant, helping regular public schools with online programs.

Extreme Workloads for Teachers: As a teacher at Pennsylvania's K12run Agora virtual academy points out in the article, teachers are often administering classes of 150 or more students with a high turnover of staff and students.

Michael McNulty teaches online high school math to 150 Agora students, and sometimes more because of “massive staff turnover,” he said. “We were scrambling to hire enough teachers.”

As enrollment surged, Agora drew more students who had been truants at regular schools, and they didn't show up online either, neglecting to log on or hand in homework, he said.

Student-teacher ratios in online schools are “generally higher than traditional classrooms where space constraints and classroom management are issues,” K12 said. Agora students' improvement on test scores is “competitive with other Pennsylvania cyber charter schools,” K12 said.

Agora monitors truancy, contacting families and school districts to get students back in class, the company said. It removes students from its rolls after 10 consecutive unexcused absences, it said.

K12 Inc.'s spokesperson is right that Agora charters perform as well as Pennsylvania virtual charter schools. Since their inception reporters, regulators and parents have complained about the poor performance of Pennsylvania's virtual schools. As Bloomberg makes clear K12 is putting profit margins and investors over the future of their studentsa their performance shows. There's a long history of K12 Inc. trying to squeeze as much money from taxpayers as possible to maximize its profit.

Made Possible By Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education has been a long time booster of K12 Inc.'s expansion, education and business model. He worked to benefit cyber charters and K12 specifically when he was governor of Florida and in the ensuing years his Foundation for Excellence in Education has been working with ALEC to make it easier for cyber charters, including K12 Inc. to expand nationally.

Jeb Bush's Digital Learning Now has had K12 Inc. as a sponsor of its events, an advisor on policies and its website rates states on how lax regulatory environment for companies like K12 Inc.

In fact, in 2012 Maine's Portland Press Herald reported that along with ALEC, Jeb Bush's foundation had worked hand in hand to try to expand virtual charter schools in Maine. While the report and the outrage around Jeb Bush and Paul LePage's efforts seemed to have kept virtual charters like K12 out of Maine. However, Bush and LePage's efforts finally paid off when K12 Inc. was given a green light to open a virtual charter school in Maine.

jeb

Profits ahead of education: Bloomberg news has an extensive article on K12 Inc. and the myriad problems that their charter schools are facing across the country. The article even features a former marketing director of K12 Inc. who goes on the record with criticism about the company putting profits ahead of education. The former executive, Houston Tucker, makes an allegation made by public education advocates for years: that K12’s brand of digital learning is focused on profits and not serving the 130,000 students that it’s supposed to serve. The article goes on to describe how the focus of the schools is marketing and recruiting new students to make up for the churn as kids are pulled, or just churn out of their schools. Tucker even pulled his kids from K12 Inc.’s school in Tennessee because teachers weren’t able to provide individualized instruction.

“In the early years, K12’s mission was something to rally around,” Tucker said. “It was brand new in the world of education. The K12 I joined isn’t the one I left.”

Tucker, the former K12 marketing director, said that one of his sons had scant feedback from his teacher at Tennessee Virtual. The school put profit ahead of education, said Tucker. He now works as a consultant, helping regular public schools with online programs.

Extreme Workloads for Teachers: As a teacher at Pennsylvania’s K12run Agora virtual academy points out in the article, teachers are often administering classes of 150 or more students with a high turnover of staff and students.

Michael McNulty teaches online high school math to 150 Agora students, and sometimes more because of “massive staff turnover,” he said. “We were scrambling to hire enough teachers.”

As enrollment surged, Agora drew more students who had been truants at regular schools, and they didn’t show up online either, neglecting to log on or hand in homework, he said.

Student-teacher ratios in online schools are “generally higher than traditional classrooms where space constraints and classroom management are issues,” K12 said. Agora students’ improvement on test scores is “competitive with other Pennsylvania cyber charter schools,” K12 said.

Agora monitors truancy, contacting families and school districts to get students back in class, the company said. It removes students from its rolls after 10 consecutive unexcused absences, it said.

K12 Inc.’s spokesperson is right that Agora charters perform as well as Pennsylvania virtual charter schools. Since their inception reporters, regulators and parents have complained about the poor performance of Pennsylvania’s virtual schools. As Bloomberg makes clear, K12 is putting profit margins and investors over the future of their studentsas their performance shows. There’s a long history of K12 Inc. trying to squeeze as much money from taxpayers as possible to maximize its profit.

Made Possible By Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education has been a long time booster of K12 Inc.’s expansion, education and business model. He worked to benefit cyber charters and K12 specifically when he was Governor of Florida, and in the ensuing years his Foundation for Excellence in Education has been working with ALEC to make it easier for cyber charters, including K12 Inc., to expand nationally.

Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now has had K12 Inc. as a sponsor of its events, an advisor on policies, and its website rates states on how lax the regulatory environment is for companies like K12 Inc.

In fact, in 2012 Maine’s Portland Press Herald reported that along with ALEC, Jeb Bush’s foundation had worked hand in hand to try to expand virtual charter schools in Maine. While the report and the outrage around Jeb Bush and Paul LePage’s efforts seemed to have kept virtual charters like K12 out of Maine. However, Bush and LePage’s efforts finally paid off when K12 Inc. was given a green light to open a virtual charter school in Maine.

The post The high price of for profit education & Jeb Bush appeared first on Cashing in on Kids.