Hardister backs off support for K12 (the company )

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 10:47 am | Updated: 11:13 am, Tue May 28, 2013.

By Travis Faintravis.fain@news-record.com

From Sarah Ovaska at N.C. Policy Watch, who has been all over the ongoing battle over a proposed virtual private school, which would be backed by a company called K12:

(State rep. Jon Hardister), with the help of K12, Inc. lobbyists, initially drafted language that would have automatically opened the K12, Inc.-run school this fall. The new version he’s working on will allow the state board a chance to review the proposal instead of automatically opening the school, he said.


The initial version of the PCS was passed out in a House Education committee Tuesday, but Hardister displaced it and took it off the agenda for discussion after hearing concerns from public education and a charter school group about the automatic approval.

You may remember this issue from last year. K12 is a for-profit company behind a number of charter schools, and it asked for permission to open a virtual charter school (online classes) based in Cabarrus County, but potentially pulling students and funding from all over North Carolina.

The State Board of Education declined to take up the application, saying it didn’t have the criteria in place to deal with virtual schools. Should they get the same funding, for example, as a charter school with an actual building?

But Cabarrus County’s school board approved the school, and it was set to open when a judge stepped in and put things on hold.

You may also remember K12 from the state of Florida’s investigation of the company’s schools there . Or from this New York Times article, which was the product of several months work and was not laudatory in nature.

Enter Hardister, a first-term Republican from here in Guilford County. He said a K12 lobbyist approached him this session, hoping to get the school’s application moving again. Hardister worked language into House Bill 273, which deals with other charter school issues as well, to open the school without State Board approval

“My immediate reaction was, well that’s kind of messed up, the school board should have acted on it,” Hardister told me Friday. “... (and) our thinking at the time was we can find a way to let the school operate.

But, as Hardister heard from more people, he said he thought better of this. He changed the bill to give the State Board 30 days to act on the application and, if they don’t, then the school is approved. That’s the “new version” Ovaska noted above, and her article is dated May 9.

But even that has changed now, after a State board member reached out to State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a co-sponsor on H 273, as well as the House Speaker Pro Tem and a go-to guy on school choice issues. That, Hardister said, is when he heard the board’s concerns over just how to fund a virtual charter school.

It “doesn’t seem right” to fund it the same as a brick-and-mortar school, Hardister said. A separate bill to clarify that process may be in the officing, he said. Language dealing with K12’s school – which would be run through a non-profit called N.C. Learns – was stripped from the bill, Hardister said.

“We decided that it would be better to allow this process to carry out,” Hardister said. “The school board should have acted on it ... but we shouldn’t go back and just retroactively rewrite the law. The more I thought about it the less comfortable I felt.

Maine Legislative Democrats Conflicted on Virtual Schools

Maine Legislative Democrats Conflicted on Virtual Schools
04/16/2013 Reported By: Jay Field

The debate continues in Augusta over the right way to develop online – or “virtual” – public schools in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage strongly supports virtual charter schools, while Democratic leaders have generally resisted them. But as Jay Field reports, Democrats in Maine are facing pressure from Washington, and are more openly conflicted about how to proceed on the issue.

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Maine Legislative Democrats Conflicted on Virtual Duration:

At a recent gathering of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, Senate President Justin Alfond, one of the Legislature’s top two Democrats, took a hard line on virtual charter schools. “I stand here today, urging the committee to put a moratorium on virtual public charter schools,” Alfond said.

In fact, Alfond is sponsoring a bill that would do just that.

“I’ve always felt that technology should play a huge part of a student’s learning,” he says. “But where I differ, I think, from at least right now, the full-time virtuals is that I don’t believe we should be replacing the classroom. We should be enhancing the classroom.

Two years ago, the Legislature, controlled by Republicans at the time, passed laws allowing both virtual schools and charters in Maine. Last spring, two out-of-state, for-profit companies – K-12, Inc. and Connections Education – submitted applications to the state Charter School Commission to open virtual charters.

Maine Democrats had immediate reservations about the proposals. Democrats in many states take their cues on education policy from groups such as teachers’ unions that are largely opposed to both charters and virtual schools.

Democrats here also point to national research that has raised serious questions about the performance of virtual schools tied to K-12, Inc. And last fall, an investigative series in the Portland Press Herald exposed the ways that a Florida foundation – connected to both K12 and Connections Education – had worked with the LePage administration to influence the development of virtual education in Maine.

“The for-profit status of a lot of the players in online education has been a difficult issue for some Democrats,” says
Joe Williams, who heads the group Democrats for Eduation Reform. He says Democrats tend to take issue with the for-profit model when applied to public virtual schools.

“On the flip side, though, it tends to be for-profit operators that are most willing to invest in research and development to come up with the kind of game-changing innovations that we’re looking to see in education,” Williams says.

It’s a big reason why, at the national level, President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have embraced virtual schools and charters, and pursued policies designed to push states to do so as well.

Williams says this sort of pressure from Washington means it’s not quite so easy for Democrats in places like Maine to simply write off these kinds of approaches to education reform – which may explain why Democratic Sen. Emily Cain, of Orono, is behind a bill to create a state-run virtual school.

“I think looking at other state models would be good. Because the first question is, ‘Who’s going to need to use or access the virutal academy?‘” Cain says.

The state-run model may garner more support from Democratic colleagues. But Joe Williams says there’s a potential downside. “If a state-run system is being created as a way of trying to shut down the marketplace for innovation, it could end up being problematic,” he says.

Still, Williams says Cain’s idea of experimenting with virtual education through a state-run, online school could work – provided that the school is open to tapping into innovative approaches from the private sector that have delivered proven results.


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