Craig Barrett Makes $190,000 As a K12 Inc. Board Member

Posted

By David Safier

on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 2:30 PM

click to enlarge

Over the years, I’ve written many posts about the shoddy corporate practices and poor student performance at schools run by K12 Inc., the for-profit, publicly traded online education corporation (Its Arizona charter school, Arizona Virtual Academy, has 4,600 students sitting behind their computers at home, if, that is, they actually take the time and effort to log in and do the work). I wrote my most recent post about the corporations’s sinking stock value a few weeks ago. And I’ve written a few times that Arizona’s Craig Barrett sits on K12 Inc.’s Board of Directors. But this is the first time I’ve written about his compensation. For the fiscal year 2015, Barrett received $190,000 from the corporation. Barrett is a very, very busy man with his fingers in a whole lot of pies. You can be certain he didn’t put in 40 hour weeks to earn his Board pay.

Why, you may ask, should we care about Barrett’s involvement in K12 Inc.? The answer is, Barrett is a powerful voice in Arizona education, advocating for what he says are necessary reforms to improve our schools. He’s not shy when it comes to talking about his connections and accomplishments. For instance, he’s happy to announce that he’s President and Chairman of BASIS Schools, Inc., the for-profit Education Management Organization that runs the chain of BASIS schools. But so far as I know, he never talks about his connection to the shoddy, failing K12 Inc. I’ve looked hard on the internet, read his op eds, listened to some of his interviews and speeches. When it comes to K12 Inc. — nothing but crickets. A man as proud of his accomplishments as Barrett should be more open about this aspect of his educational life, and more forthcoming about what he, as a board member, is doing to improve the corporate and educational culture at K12 Inc.

Craig Barrett’s list of connections and accomplishments is vast. He’s the retired CEO of Intel, and he’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As I mentioned earlier, he’s President and Chairman of BASIS Schools Inc. He’s also a board member of Achieve, Inc., which was instrumental in creating and promoting the Common Core standards, as well as an influential member of any number of education-related organizations. He travels around the world promoting STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and he’s very outspoken about what he thinks is wrong with Arizona education and what should be done to fix it. His ideas fall squarely in the privatization/”education reform” camp. During Jan Brewer’s governorship, he chaired her Arizona Ready Education Council which worked to steer the state’s education priorities, most of which are being carried forward by Gov. Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council. It’s fair to say he’s the most powerful unelected individual in Arizona education.

So if he sees himself a good-education advocate, especially an outspoken one who touts the successes of BASIS schools as a model for other schools, he should feel a duty to explain the way his $190,000 a year position on the K12 Inc. board is part of his commitment to improving education in Arizona and nationwide. Maybe there’s more value in the corporation’s online school model, which has been so regularly and roundly criticized, even from people within the “education reform” movement, than we know. Maybe he’s working inside the corporation to improve its operations and education delivery system. A man as well spoken as Barrett, a man who writes as well as Barrett, a man who can command a public forum as easily as Barrett, should really make an effort to explain this questionable aspect of his educational involvement.

BASIS BOARD MEMBER Bonus News:  How much does Craig Barrett make as President and Chairman of BASIS Schools Inc.? I don’t know, because it isn’t a matter of public record. BASIS Schools Inc. is a for-profit Education Management Organization, so, though nearly all of its income is taxpayer money which the state gives to its charter schools, once the money that flows from the state budget to charter schools is sent upstairs and hidden behind a for-profit pay wall, it disappears from view. We don’t know if Barrett and other board members are paid, and if so, how much. We have no idea how much money BASIS founders Michael and Olga Block make. We used to know back when BASIS was entirely nonprofit and the Blocks had to report their salaries on the nonprofit’s publicly available 990 tax forms, but no more.

But it’s interesting to see who sits on the board of BASIS Schools, Inc. Of course, there’s Craig Barrett, a man whose political and educational priorities lean conservative. And there’s co-founder Michael Block, who has worked as a consultant for ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), an organization whose main mission is to create conservative legislation which can become state law across the country. Also sitting on the seven member board is Clint Bolick, whom Gov. Ducey just appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court. Bolick is currently the head of the Goldwater Institute’s constitutional litigation team. Another board member, Terry Sarvas, is a member of the Goldwater Institute, and yet another, Steve Twist, is a founder of the Goldwater Institute.

BASIS’s conservative credentials run wide and deep — which is fine, of course, perfectly acceptable, but well worth noting.

Tags: Craig Barrett, K12 Inc., BASIS Schools, Inc., Arizona Ready Education Council, Classrooms First Initiative Council, Michael Block, Clint Bolick, Terry Sarvas, Steve Twist, Image

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I am sure if you ask the BASIS bunch to work for nothing to support select student success, they would. After all the 1100 local PUBLIC school board members in 223 publically elected and transparent school districts in Arizona, DO work for zero dollars.

Posted by

Frances Perkins

on 01/12/2016 at 7:54 AM

It’s time for more transparency in the Charter for profit school industry. After all these are taxpayer dollars, how much is spent in the classroom vs. profit? Who knows ?
I worked as an engineering consultant for many years most often on public projects. We had to disclose, salary info, overhead rates, cost data, profit and so forth. Why? Because public money was involved.

Posted by

Michael S. Ellegood

on 01/12/2016 at 8:29 AM

Sound like Mr. Barrett has set himself up with a pretty substantial retirement at taxpayers expense. I do not need to give you a lesson in civics but in order to put a stop to this rape of state revenues is very simple. A small change in the leadership of the State Senate. Senator Marco Rubio is absolutely correct when he defends himself for missing sessions of the United States Senate. Notwithstanding the rules of the U. S. Senate it’s a numbers game, it is not the number of NOs that pass legislation, it is the number of Yes votes. While it is true he is collecting pay for being a Senator, if he is going to vote NO, so what if he isn’t there. It is the 51 YES votes that passes legislation. Why is this important? Here in Arizona it is 31 Yes votes in the State House and 16 Yes votes in the State Senate. Right now the State Senate is split 17 Republican State Senators and 13 Democrats. That means a change of only four state senators and the control of the State Senate shifts to the Democrats. The committee majorities would be Democrat and the flow of legislation would be in the hands of the New Democrat power structure. That means without the approval of the State Senate no budget, no new laws or changes to current laws could take place. Before anything goes to the Governor for a signature to become law BOTH houses of the legislature must be in agreement. Getting back to Mr. Barrett and publicly fund education systems, no money would flow, no formula of distribution could be decided until the 16 Democrats in control of the State Senate voted YES. See how powerful only a change of four State Senators would be. With one or the other bodies of the State Legislature in control of the Democratic members, things could and would get done, but the name of the game then would be compromise. Working together to draft bills that could pass both house and then be sent to the Governor to become law. The Governor could of course veto the legislative action, then more compromise would be necessary to craft legislation but it sure would beat the five or six legislative kingpins dictating budget and other public decisions from a broom closet of the State Capitol Building which by the way doesn’t even belong to the state anymore. One state senate change to start with would be in Legislative District 11, North Pima and Pinal Counties. State Senator Steve Smith with his radical ideology desperately needs to be replaced. A very qualified and highly experienced in public affairs candidate has stepped forward named Ralph Atchue. Mr. Atchue is currently Secretary/Treasurer of the Casa Grande Democrats
club. There is one recommendation only three to go. Wow, sounds simple doesn’t it, instead of tax cuts for the rich and powerful special interests, a new day, taxpayer funds invested in Arizona families and especially our kids. Educated and job trained citizens to bring economic prosperity to a flourishing and thriving Arizona.

Posted by

hakeson

on 01/12/2016 at 8:38 AM

$190K. Nothing close to the annual comp K12’s CEO tried to shovel pass the shareholders…

Posted by

Susan A Smith

on 01/12/2016 at 9:19 AM

This is the first time I have ever seen a salary of a charter school administrator published. Since charter schools are taxpayer funded, it would be good to see all administrative salaries published every year with the same formal transparency as public schools. Back to 1994 would be even better, whether the school failed, or whether the administrator retired with a golden parachute of his/her own design. When you read and watch mainstream news reporting administrative overhead not only as a percentage but also in dollar amounts, why have “reporters” refused to report charter salaries for so many years?

Posted by

Thinking_Aloud

on 01/14/2016 at 8:27 AM

David Safier wrote a short article about the “real” Craig Barrett in 2013 including this
“… by Barrett, who stays under the radar except when he helped campaign against Prop 204, the one cent sales tax for education. But his real power isn’t in swaying public opinion. It comes from whispering in Governor Brewer’s ear and steering the legislature toward adopting his educational ideas ie:
Don’t add a penny to K-12 school funding. Freeze it right where it is, even though we’re spending about 20 percent less than five years ago and we’re near the bottom of the nation in per-student funding.
Send more money to charter schools. That, of course, would mean less for district schools. And districts can forget about trying to pass bonds or budget overrides. Those funding options would be wiped out. But charters would still be able to float bonds to build new schools. So if Arizona’s student population goes up, districts would have no way to handle the overflow, and charters would be more than happy to step in and fill the void.
Set teacher salaries based on student performance, not experience or education. Those lucky teachers in high-performing, high-rent districts could expect their salaries to climb at the expense of teachers in low-income areas. And schools, like teachers, would get performance bonuses, meaning those same high-rent districts would find themselves with extra cash while districts with low-income students who need the most resources would see their allotments shrink. And if any district slips into failing territory, the state would take it over. No extra money would go along with the takeover, just loss of local control.”
Now we are dealing with Prop123, that will lead to the death of public instruction in our state.

Posted by

on 01/14/2016 at 1:12 PM

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Larry Lee started his own blog, which is a good thing, because he understands Alabama politics and cares deeply about improving public education.


In this post, he follows the money that preceded the legislature’s approval of charter schools.


He writes:


Even an amateur swami with a cloudy crystal ball could have told us how the recent vote to approve charter schools in Alabama would play out. In fact, he didn’t even have to look at his ball, they could have looked at 2014 campaign financial disclosures instead.


There they would have found a trail of contributions of thousands and thousands of dollars from charter supporters to friendly legislators.


This bill passed the Senate 22-12 the first time it was voted on. One senator did not vote, eight Democrats voted against it, as did the one Independent and three Republicans. All yes votes were Republican.


Interesting that in the deep South, the Democrats know what “school choice” will lead to. Segregation.


Where did the money come from?


The “Big Three” donors supporting charters last year were Bob Riley’s Alabama 2014 PAC, the Business Council of Alabama’s Progress PAC (run by Billy Canary) and Speaker Mike Hubbard’s Storm PAC. (These three have also been strong supporters of the Alabama Accountability Act.)


Together, they spent $5.1 million dollars in 2014 in hopes of having friendly politicians in place. Obviously their plan worked well. This money came from an assortment of sources. While BCA depends on their Alabama members for support, the Riley and Hubbard PACs cast a wider net and got checks from across the country. Companies such a Pfizer, General Electric, Anheuser Busch, Cemex and International Paper donated. As did pay day lenders and charter supporters like StudentsFirst and K12….


Let’s take a closer look at how the pot was split in the Senate.


None of the eight Democrats or the lone Independent who voted against charters got a penny from Riley, Hubbard or BCA. The Republican who did not vote got $1,000 and the three Republicans who voted “nay” got a total of $77,000, mostly from BCA.


Of the 22 Republican “yea” votes, one who few thought would win, got nothing. Of the remaining 21, six had either no opposition or token opposition. They only received $8,000 total. The remaining 15 got $987,815 in all, an average of $65,854 each. However, some were more equal than others as five got more than $100,000 each.


In addition to contributions from the “Big Three,” StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, CA group with 10 lobbyists in Alabama, spent $61,958. And the Alabama Federation for Children, which was solely supported by checks from millionaires in California, Michigan and Arkansas spent $101,748. Evidently “Alabama values” include California millionaires.


In all, the 15 senators who had substantial challenges got $1,142,522 from the charter supporters just mentioned for an average of $76,168.


Follow the money. It’s rightwing money to privatize public education.
















via Diane Ravitch’s blog http://ift.tt/1DS4Y1W

Uncharted territory

Uncharted territory

Lansing online school; 7 teachers, $9.6 M budget

One of the newest charter schools in Lansing has no school building or buses.

There’s 372 students enrolled and seven teachers.

The statewide web-based school will cost Michigan taxpayers $11.1 million, a bone of contention for some Democrats in the state Legislature.

Democrats say these cyber schools don´t deserve the same amount of state funding that traditional brick-and-mortar schools receive (about $7,000 per-student in Lansing) because the charters aren´t faced with the same overhead costs.

Many of these schools don´t have physical classrooms. So they don´t need to pay for rent, gas, electricity, water or busing.

Online-based Insight School of Michigan is a good example. Students there do all the assignments and lessons online, not at the office park address on 6512 Centurion Drive in Delta Township.

It spends about $5.7 million on instruction, but the school won´t publicly disclose the seven teachers´ salaries.

The school uses another $3.9 million for support services like administration and maintenance, without needing to pay transportation costs for the kids.

And while many schools around the state are running deficits, this one managed a $1.5 million surplus for 2014-15.

What will they use it for? Marcus Moore, head of school, wouldn´t immediately say.

When the question was first posed, he said he didn´t “feel comfortable” answering the question. He later responded via email that the decision is up to the board of directors.

Moore also refused to comment on whether cyber schools have fewer costs than traditional ones, or whether he thinks they should have the same funding level.

But a new bill from Rep. Rashida Tlaib , D-Detroit, would essentially slash funding for online schools in half.

“Cyber schools have extremely low costs and don’t have to transport their students,” Tlaib said. “We need to have a level playing field so that all Michigan kids have the opportunity to get a great education.”

State Reps. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, and Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, also sponsored the legislation, along with 32 other Democrats.

They argue that the brick-and-mortar schools should be getting more than the virtual ones.

“It doesn´t make a whole lot of sense to give equal funding to cyber schools,” Schor said. “The more of these that pop up, the less you have for traditional public schools. It´s spreading these limited dollars thin.” Based on the recent history of Republicans striking Democrat-proffered amendments to the 2014 education budget that would have limited that funding, it seems unlikely for the bill to gain any traction.

“Our Republican colleagues have gaveled down each and every one,” Schor said.

No Republicans have endorsed the bill.

Insight is an online-based school for grades 6 through 12.

According to a press release, Insight “focuses on helping students who are struggling in their education due to a variety of factors including, but not limited to, learning or behavioral issues, bullying or a lack of effective alternatives at a brick-andmortar school.”

Central Michigan University is the authorizing agency for the school.

Moore said in a statement, “Our goal is to help our students grow to where they need to be in their educational careers. Our indi vidualized approach to education is based on decades of research about how students learn best, and we´re committed to every child in our program.”

Insight uses the K12 curriculum, generated by K12 Inc., a for-profit, publicly traded online charter school corporation According to its website, K12 offers public school programs in 34 states plus the District of Columbia.

A simple Google search is full of reports from other states of low academic achievement, schools cutting ties with the curriculum and stock price tumbles.

This April the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced it would no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual charters that use K12 to provide their online curriculum, including both Agora Cyber Charter and California’s largest online charter network, the California Virtual Academy (CAVA).

Important Primary Election for Georgia State Superintendent On July 22

Georgia has an important run-off for State Superintendent of Education in the Democratic Party on July 22. If you care about the future of public education in Georgia, please vote.


Valarie Wilson came in first in the primary, with 32% of the vote. The runner-up, Alisha Thomas Morgan, received 26%.


The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, a strong supporter of public education. In reviewing her list of contributors, it appears that almost all of them live in Georgia. Wilson’s total contributions, after taking out loans, was $178,147. Of those, $174,572 came from supporters who live in Georgia; $3,575–or 2%-came from outside Georgia.


Valarie was elected to the local school board in Decatur in 2002 and served as its president from 2005-2011. She was elected president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2012-13.


Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, has been endorsed by the corporate reformers, the hedge fund managers and billionaires, who support privatization, charters and vouchers.


On Morgan’s website, she boasts that she has been endorsed by the Wall Street hedge fund managers group, Democrats for Education Reform; by the voucher-loving American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune, sister of Erik Prince of the infamous Blackwater security company); by Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst; by billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg; by billionaire Eli Broad; and by Frank Biden, brother of Joe Biden, who manages a for-profit charter corporation in Florida called Mavericks.


Most of Morgan’s funding comes from out-of-state donors. Morgan has collected $21,203 from citizens of Georgia. She has collected $70,675 from out-of-state donors.


Here is the list of outside donors to Morgan.




LastName


FirstName


Cash_Amount




Aluise


Joseph


500




American Federation for Children Action Fund-Georgia PAC





3700




Arnold


John


1500




Bender Benefits & Insurance





3000




Bing


Jonathan


250




Blew


James


500




Bloomberg


Emma


500




Bloomberg


Emma


500




Bloomberg


Michael


3700




Bloomberg


Michael


6300




Bradley


Katherine


1000




Bradley


Sean


200




Broad


Eli


3700




Broad


Eli


6300




Conforme


Veronica


250




Cunningham


Peter


200




Deane-Williams


Barbara


150




DeLaski


Kathleen


500




DeVos Jr.


Richard & Elisabeth


6300




Dostart


Steve


250




Dostart


Steve


250




Duncan


Damon


250




Elisa


Louis


100




Elisa


Louis


100




Ferguson


Wilkie


250




Fields


Jarett


75




Fisher


John


1000




Francis


Gregory


200




Fuller


Howard


250




Fuller


Howard


250




Gaal


Michael


250




Gordon


Scott


250




Groff


Peter


250




Groff


Peter


250




Hilton


Adriel


100




Hilton


Adriel


100




Holifield


Johnathan


250




Huizenga


J.C.


2500




Jackson-King


Carolyn


150




Johnson


Alex


250




K12 Management Inc.





2000




Kihn


Paul


250




Kihn


Paul


100




Kirtley


John


3700




Ledre Jr.


Reo


200




Leslie


Kent


200




Lomax


Michael


250




Martin


Rayne


100




McGriff


Deborah


250




Nellons-Paige


Stephanie


500




payton jr


tony


150




Peabody


Malcolm


500




Powell Jobs


Laurene


6300




Rees


Nina


500




Revenaugh


Martha


500




Ritchie


Daniel


3000




Rudall


David


250




Russell


Jerome


500




Schilling


John


150




The Alex’s Group LLC





150




Thiry


Kent


4300




Thompson


Elizabeth


100




Thompson


Elizabeth


100




Tilson


Whitney


250




Total





70675
















via Diane Ravitch’s blog http://ift.tt/1rmPjae

Florida Republicans, aided by three rogue Democrats, rammed through voucher legislation in the closing day of the legislative session.


The vouchers are supposedly for the benefit of children with special needs.


The Republican legislators’ alleged concern for children with special needs is especially hypocritical in view of their failure to act on the Ethan Rediske legislation, would have exempted children in extreme medical distress to be exempted from state testing by local officials.


As we have seen time and again (and as ALEC urges), legislation for vouchers is targeted to children with special needs as a way to promote vouchers. Thus, children with special needs are cynically used by rightwing legislators whose real goal is to destroy public education.


**************************


This from a reader in Florida:


 


This skullduggery just in from the last hours of the spring legislative session in Florida’s right wing Republican-controlled Legislature:


Tampa Bay Times, May 2, 2014: Lawmakers revive, then approve school voucher expansion


Quote:


TALLAHASSEE — A surprise procedural maneuver Friday helped Florida lawmakers pass one of the most controversial bills of the session.


Both the House and Senate gave final approval to a bill that would expand the school voucher program and create new scholarships for special-needs children.


The proposal will now head to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it.


School choice advocates celebrated bill’s passage — an unexpected end to a roller-coaster session.


—–


Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, said she was disappointed. “The members of FEA are chagrined by the continued march to expand voucher schools that are largely unregulated, don’t have to follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely,” she said.


McCall said it was “especially galling that the voucher expansion was tacked on to an unrelated bill on the final day of the session.”


—–


“Public schools should not have a monopoly,” Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in debate. “We have choices in everything else.”


——-end quote


http://ift.tt/1sgfpJG


With this development, Jeb Bush must be gleefully rubbing his hands together.


Just as certain as many people here in Florida were, that then-Governor Jeb Bush would leave no stone unturned in jamming his brother into the White House, many of us KNEW that these radical Republicans in Tallahassee would force this thievery of public education resources into law.


God willing, we will flush Rick Scott and as many of these thieves running the Florida legislature as we can this November, along with their micromanaging mentor, Jeb Bush.
















via Diane Ravitch’s blog http://ift.tt/1sgfpJO

Once upon a time there was a sturdy American tradition known as separation of church and state. Most Americans thought it was a bad idea to send public dollars to religious schools, because doing so would mean the death of the common school, the public schools that have been a foundation stone of our democracy. Once we begin subsidizing schools run by religious denominations, the very idea of public education as a meeting ground for all is at risk.


But many states are now taking that road, because there is so much big money behind the idea of “school choice.” School choice used to be the battle cry of segregationists in the 1960s, and school choice does indeed promote segregation–by race, religion, and class. But backers of vouchers don’t care about segregation, nor do they care about education quality. They want choice. Period.


Florida voters decisively defeated a constitutional amendment in 2012 that would have permitted vouchers, but voucher advocates are pressing ahead through the legislature, as in other states where vouchers can’t win on the ballot.


In Florida, big money is subsidizing a major campaign for school vouchers, so that children may choose to attend fundamentalist schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, and schools run by any other denomination. Deep pockets and powerful political forces are pressing for vouchers:


“Those forces include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and influential think tanks like the conservative James Madison Institute and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. All have thrown their considerable weight behind the expansion.


And then there is the money. The voucher program’s top supporter, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, controls a political committee in Florida that spent nearly $2.4 million to influence races in 2010 and 2012. He plans to spend at least $1.5 million in 2014, he said.


The efforts have made expanding the voucher program a top priority of this year’s legislative session.”


Due to the influence of Jeb Bush, the state’s Republicans are supportive of vouchers. So the outside funders have been targeting contributions to Democrats to assure passage of their voucher legislation:


Kirtley’s political committee, the Florida Federation for Children, has channeled more than $2.3 million into political advertisements and direct mail to help favored candidates since 2010.


The Florida Federation for Children has been “heavily involved in Democratic primaries, where there are legislators who have supported their constituents’ desires for parental choice in education,” Kirtley said.


“We also have been involved in Republican primaries, but fewer, since there is usually a consensus among those candidates about educational choice,” he said. “If there is a contrast either way in a general election, we will be involved there as well.”


The Florida Chamber of Commerce has been another strong advocate for the proposed expansion, said David Hart, the organization’s executive vice president. “Many of our member companies around the state support this program and have made pretty generous contributions toward supporting scholarships,” he said.


The chamber spends thousands of dollars on political advertisements and direct mail pieces. But because the organization advocates for a variety of issues, it is virtually impossible to track how much of that spending is related to tax credit scholarships.


Other influential groups that have lined up in support include Americans for Prosperity, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, the James Madison Institute and StudentsFirst.
















via Diane Ravitch’s blog http://ift.tt/1hbQFvR

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.

Related Media
Maine Legislative Democrats Conflicted on Virtual Duration:
3:34

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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