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.

K12 education company settles case with Calif.

Local Education

By Ty Tagami


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated: 5:08 p.m. Thursday, July 28, 2016Posted: 2:47 p.m. Thursday, July 28, 2016

A company that is paid tens of millions of dollars to provide educational services in Georgia has settled a legal case in California after a state investigation into allegations of improper billing there.

There’ve been no public allegations of impropriety in Georgia, where the company, K12 helps operate Georgia Cyber Academy. The academy has come in for criticism over student results: in 2015, the school earned a D for its academic performance with more than 13,000 Georgia students, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia academy is among the five biggest schools managed by K12, officials said. The company educates about as many students at a collection of 14 schools in California called the California Virtual Academies, or CAVA.

K12 was the target of a civil investigation by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, whose office alleged that K12 exploited weak charter school oversight in her state to excessively bill CAVA schools by pressuring teachers to sign “doctored” attendance records. Her office also accused the school of telling people it thought were prospective parents that classes were smaller than they really were.

On July 8, K12 agreed to settle for millions of dollars, without admitting to the alleged facts or to wrongdoing. Harris issued a statement saying the company had agreed to a settlement of $168.5 million, which K12 CEO Stuart Udell characterized as “shameless and categorically incorrect” in a conference call afterward with financial analysts.

The company did agree to pay $2.5 million to the state and $6 million to the attorney general’s office. But K12 objects to the way Harris described the other $160 million.

She called it “debt relief to the non-profit schools it manages.” Udell called it “the difference between K12’s contractual price and what the schools can afford to pay” based on their state funding.

“While K12 has a contractual right to recover these balanced budget credits, in all the years that K12 has worked with the CAVA boards we have never sought to recover those amounts,” Udell said on that conference call, according to a transcript provided by K12.

The final judgment in the case describes the $160 million agreement this way: an expungement of a decade’s worth of “credits against amounts otherwise due under managed school contracts.”

Neither the conference call nor the attorney general’s news release addressed another payment: $80,000 to a former CAVA teacher turned whistleblower. She alleged she was fired because she complained about the way K12 changed the attendance records she had submitted. The attorney general intervened in her case and K12 agreed to give her $50,000 to settle her employment-related claims and $30,000 for her legal fees.

Udell told the analysts that the company settled with the attorney general to avoid a “multiyear distraction” and litigation costs that would have been many times what it agreed to pay. He also said the company plans to fight legislation in California that would prohibit charter schools from using for-profit companies like his. And he said K12, which runs some 80 schools in 33 states, has plans to expand, going statewide in Alabama and Virginia and adding schools in other states, including Indiana, Michigan, Nevada and Maine.

K12 education company settles case with Calif.

5:08 p.m. Thursday, July 28, 2016

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A company that is paid tens of millions of dollars to provide educational services in Georgia has settled a legal case in California after a state investigation into allegations of improper billing there.

There’ve been no public allegations of impropriety in Georgia, where the company, K12 helps operate Georgia Cyber Academy. The academy has come in for criticism over student results: in 2015, the school earned a D for its academic performance with more than 13,000 Georgia students, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia academy is among the five biggest schools managed by K12, officials said. The company educates about as many students at a collection of 14 schools in California called the California Virtual Academies, or CAVA.

John Amis

Graduate of Georgia Cyber Academy Brycen Walker of Savannah throws up his hands in jubilation as he follows Tyriq Wade of Columbus to the stage during commencement, Saturday, May 21, 2016, held at Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta. The statewide charter school educates more than 13,000 students a year, as young as 5 years old, all online and at about half the cost of traditional public schools. (Photo/John Amis)

K12 was the target of a civil investigation by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, whose office alleged that K12 exploited weak charter school oversight in her state to excessively bill CAVA schools by pressuring teachers to sign “doctored” attendance records. Her office also accused the school of telling people it thought were prospective parents that classes were smaller than they really were.

On July 8, K12 agreed to settle for millions of dollars, without admitting to the alleged facts or to wrongdoing. Harris issued a statement saying the company had agreed to a settlement of $168.5 million, which K12 CEO Stuart Udell characterized as “shameless and categorically incorrect” in a conference call afterward with financial analysts.

The company did agree to pay $2.5 million to the state and $6 million to the attorney general’s office. But K12 objects to the way Harris described the other $160 million.

She called it “debt relief to the non-profit schools it manages.” Udell called it “the difference between K12’s contractual price and what the schools can afford to pay” based on their state funding.

“While K12 has a contractual right to recover these balanced budget credits, in all the years that K12 has worked with the CAVA boards we have never sought to recover those amounts,” Udell said on that conference call, according to a transcript provided by K12.

The final judgment in the case describes the $160 million agreement this way: an expungement of a decade’s worth of “credits against amounts otherwise due under managed school contracts.”

Neither the conference call nor the attorney general’s news release addressed another payment: $80,000 to a former CAVA teacher turned whistleblower. She alleged she was fired because she complained about the way K12 changed the attendance records she had submitted. The attorney general intervened in her case and K12 agreed to give her $50,000 to settle her employment-related claims and $30,000 for her legal fees.

Udell told the analysts that the company settled with the attorney general to avoid a “multiyear distraction” and litigation costs that would have been many times what it agreed to pay. He also said the company plans to fight legislation in California that would prohibit charter schools from using for-profit companies like his. And he said K12, which runs some 80 schools in 33 states, has plans to expand, going statewide in Alabama and Virginia and adding schools in other states, including Indiana, Michigan, Nevada and Maine.

Charter School Must Pay California Millions

By DON DEBENEDICTIS 

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — The operator of 14 online charter schools in California must pay the state $8.5 million, provide $160 million in debt relief and reform itself to resolve charges of false advertising and using misrepresentations to increase its taxpayer funding.     The settlement should end a July 8 lawsuit the attorney general filed against Virginia-based K12 Inc. and its 14 California schools, and a 2012 whistleblower lawsuit against K12 and its California Virtual Academy @ Los Angeles.     The profit-seeking K12 and its “virtual,” or online, schools, misrepresented their students’ achievements, test scores, class size, individualized instruction and parent satisfaction, the state says in its Superior Court complaint.     All 14 California defendants are named a variation of “California Virtual Academy”: California Virtual Academy @ San Mateo, California Virtual Academy @ Los Angeles, and so on. All 14 are organized as, or operated by, nonprofit California Public Benefit corporations.     “K12 ‘provides substantially all of the management, technology and academic support services in addition to curriculum, learning systems and instructional services’ for the virtual school defendants,” the attorney general says in the lawsuit, without specifying what she is quoting in the interior quotes.     The complaint continues: “The virtual school defendants receive funds from the State of California every year to pay for the education of the approximately 13,000 students attending these schools. Pursuant to the agreements, the virtual school defendants pay significant management and technology fees to K12 based on a percentage of the total funding the virtual school defendants receive.”     The fees include the cost of using K12’s software to take the Internet classes, for which students must pay, despite the defendants’ offer of a free education, according to the state.     Also, K12 et al. advertised that graduates would qualify for the University of California and California State University campuses, though they did not offer classes in several areas required for UC admission, according to the complaint.     At K12’s direction, the 14 schools inflated their daily attendance to collect unjustified funding from the state Department of Education: They credited students with a full day at school for logging in to class for as little as one minute, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.     “All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education,” Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. “K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt.”     Harris put the total value of the settlement at $168.5 million because the agreement requires K12 to expunge about $160 million in so-called “balanced budget credits” the company provided the online schools under their contracts. Harris called the $160 million debt relief.     But in an angry retort, K12’s CEO said the company never sought or expected to collect on the credits, which he called subsidies, not debts.     “The attorney general’s claim of $168.5 million in today’s announcement is flat wrong,” Stuart Udell said in a statement. “Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated.”     Udell put the value of the settlement at only $2.5 million: the amount K12 will pay to resolve claims it inflated attendance figures. It will pay another $6 million to cover the costs of the attorney general’s investigation and to fund other “enforcement cases to protect the rights of children” by the office, according to the main settlement document.     K12’s attorneys, Timothy Hatch with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles and Peter Wald with Latham & Watkins in San Francisco did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the attorney for the charter schools, Paul C. Minney, with Young, Minney & Corr in Sacramento.     K12 did not admit wrongdoing or liability in the settlement, but it had been under fire for some time. In addition to the attorney general’s months-long probe, the California Department of Education was monitoring it, and the San Jose Mercury News published a series of investigative stories on it this spring.     The case began with a whistleblower lawsuit filed under seal in 2012 by a teacher from the California Virtual Academy @ Los Angeles. Susie Kaplar claimed she had been fired for refusing to pad her attendance figures. Because she filed the suit on behalf of the state, the attorney general’s office was able to take it over and bring its own suit.     The settlement agreement for her lawsuit includes the $2.5 million payment on attendance data. Under state law, Kaplar should collect an undisclosed portion of the settlement. She also will receive $80,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.     Kaplar’s attorney, J. Mark Moore in Canoga Park, did not return a call seeking comment.     The California Charter Schools Association, which usually supports charter operators, praised the attorney general’s actions.     “CCSA condemns the predatory and dishonest practices employed by K12, Inc. to dupe parents using misleading marketing schemes, siphon taxpayer dollars with inflated student attendance data, and coerce [the nonprofit schools] into dubious contracting arrangements,” the association said in a statement.     It also endorsed legislation pending in Sacramento to prevent for-profit companies from controlling or operating charter schools.

California Attorney General probe leads to $168.5 million settlement with for-profit online school operator

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:
 
07/08/2016 11:54:50 AM PDT

SACRAMENTO — Facing a torrent of accusations, a for-profit company that operates taxpayer-funded online charter schools throughout California has reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state over claims it manipulated attendance records and overstated its students’ success.

The deal, announced Friday by Attorney General Kamala Harris, comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published an investigation of K12 Inc., a publicly traded Virginia company, which raked in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years operating a profitable but low-performing network of “virtual” schools for about 15,000 students.

File photo: California Virtual Academies student Lillian Lewis, 11, studies online before her gymnastics practice on Nov. 11, 2015, at her Pleasanton home. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group archives)

“Knowing that something will be done to address the schools’ problems is very reassuring,” said Gabriela Novak, who pulled her daughter Elizabeth from K12’s San Mateo County school after a year of frustrations and difficulty communicating with her teachers. “Finally, the system is working.”

Harris’ office found that K12 and the 14 California Virtual Academies used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission — issues that were exposed in this news organization’s April report.

The settlement could help spur legislation that would prevent for-profit companies like K12 from operating public schools in California.

The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 and its affiliated schools collected more state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data and that the company leaned on the nonprofit schools to sign unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt,” Harris said in a statement. “This settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”

The California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association both applauded Harris’ announcement and denounced the company’s practices — even though the two special-interest groups are frequently foes.

But in a news release Friday, K12 stressed that it had admitted no wrongdoing and insisted it had already planned to take up several of the 60 corrective actions required under the agreement over the next few years. It also disputed the attorney general’s description of the size of the settlement, calling it “flat wrong.”

“Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated,” K12 Chief Executive Officer Stuart Udell said in the statement.

Under the settlement, which is subject to court approval, K12 will pay $8.5 million to settle the state’s claims.

It also agreed to “expunge” about $160 million in credits it has issued to the California Virtual Academies since 2005 that have helped the schools cover the cost of the contracts they hold with the company, whose rates routinely exceed what the schools can afford.

But Udell said that the credits should be called “subsidies,” not debts, and that the company’s commitment to expunge them shouldn’t be used by Harris to hike the size of the settlement. He also defended the credits, saying they had protected the schools against financial uncertainties.

“(The) schools have not paid that money to K12 and K12 never expected to receive it given California’s funding environment,” Udell said.

This news organization’s investigation into K12’s California schools revealed the company reaps tens of millions of dollars annually in state funding while graduating fewer than half of its high school students. It also showed that kids who spend as little as one minute during a school day logged onto K12’s software may have been counted as “present” in records used to calculate the amount of funding the schools get from the state.

The revelations show why California needs tighter rules for online charter schools, said Bruce Fuller, an education policy professor at UC Berkeley.

“Virtual charter schools’ profit-seeking too often leads to deception about their true effectiveness,” Fuller said. “The Legislature should move aggressively to prevent such harm to students and taxpayers.”

The settlement requires K12 to take a slew of corrective actions.

The company must: ensure the accuracy of its advertisements, train teachers to prevent improper attendance claims and reform the way K12 contracts with the California Virtual Academies.

K12 must also eliminate any type of incentive compensation for its enrollment staff, provide all students functional computers and give families a subsidy of at least $20 per month to cover the cost of high-speed internet service.

Emily Bertelli, a spokeswoman for the California Charter Schools Association, called the settlement “a good start,” but said the Legislature must change the law to prevent such abusive practices from happening again.

When lawmakers return to work in August after a monthlong summer recess, they’ll consider Assembly Bill 1084, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, which would ban online charter schools from hiring for-profit companies for instructional services.

Bertelli’s group has offered amendments that it believes will strengthen that proposed legislation.

“We are hopeful that the Legislature doesn’t miss an opportunity at this critical juncture to do right by students,” Bertelli said in a statement.

Contact Jessica Calefati at 916-441-2101. Follow her at Twitter.com/Calefati.

Online school operator agrees to $168.5 million settlement after being accused of manipulating records

July 9, 2016

Updated 4:48 p.m.

SACRAMENTO – A for-profit company that operates online charter schools in California has reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state over claims it manipulated attendance records and overstated the academic progress of students.

The deal announced Friday by Attorney General Kamala Harris also requires Virginia-based K12 Inc. to take a slew of corrective actions, the East Bay Times reported Saturday.

The settlement comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published an investigation of K12 Inc., which received more than $310 million in state funding for its profitable but low-performing network of California Virtual Academies, or CAVA, which serve about 15,000 students.

Harris’ office found that K12 and its 14 “virtual” schools in California used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for admission at the University of California and California State University.

The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 collected more state funding than it was entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data.

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt,” Harris said in a statement.

Under the settlement, K12 will pay $8.5 million to settle the state’s claims. It also agreed to expunge about $160 million in credits it has issued to the California Virtual Academies since 2005 that have helped the schools cover the cost of the contracts they hold with the company.

K12 said in a statement it had admitted no wrongdoing and insisted it had already planned to take up several of the corrective actions required under the agreement.

“Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated,” K12 Chief Executive Officer Stuart Udell said in the statement.

Udell said that the credits should be called subsidies, not debts, and that the company’s commitment to expunge them shouldn’t be used by Harris to hike the size of the settlement. He also defended the credits, saying they had protected the schools against financial uncertainties.

K12 Earnings Call

This week CAVA’s management company K12 Inc. held its third quarter earnings call with executives, reporting revenue growth of 4 percent “year over year” and operating income (profit) of just about $19 million for the quarter.  On the conference call, recently-hired CEO Stuart Udell expressed his delight with being one of the newest members of the K12 executive team as well as his excitement about what he sees as K12’s potential to deliver for students.  It’s no surprise that Udell, whose pay and employment depends on improving K12’s stock performance and investor satisfaction, presented an extremely optimistic front as he speculated that K12’s fourth quarter will be even better.

This despite a rough start for the company’s current fiscal year – one that essentially began with a shareholder revolt that resulted in the voting down of K12’s executive compensation proposal, CAVA

teachers delivering a report card of straight F’s to K12’s leadership for its failure to invest in students and teachers, the removal of Nate Davis as the company’s CEO, and sharp criticism of the for-profit company following the release of a series of studies pointing to problems with virtual charter schools due to weak oversight and the industry’s misplaced priorities.

But, if you ask Stuart Udell, at K12 everything is awesome.  This is an interesting contrast to the doom and gloom the company sought to broadcast as early as last week in response to the recent articles published by the San Jose Mercury News, which raise very serious questions about how CAVA and K12 are using the public education dollars they receive – millions of dollars intended to provide instruction to our kids but instead funneled out of the state.  CAVA and K12 have yet to respond to the actual merits of the news story, instead opting to blame it all away on teachers who have stood up for our students by forming a union.  Hmmm.

Oh, and speaking of contradictions, did you know that one of K12’s newest ventures is in partnership with – wait for it – a labor union?!  That’s right.  Executives on this week’s conference call also touched on their excitement around K12’s Destinations Career Academy – a new technical education online high school in Wisconsin that offers a construction apprenticeship program in partnership with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139.  Imagine that – K12 seeking to deliver for students in partnership with organized labor.

We sincerely look forward to the day decision-makers at our school embrace a partnership with teachers and our union too – not only for the benefit of shareholders and the bottom line, but for the success of CAVA’s students.  Now, talk about awesome.

Like this:

Thank you, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, for writing a bill to ban for-profit operators of virtual schools.

The bill, Assembly Bill 1084, “would prevent charter schools that do more than 80 percent of their teaching online from being operated by for-profit companies or hiring them to facilitate instruction. If passed and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the legislation would effectively put companies like K12 out of business in the Golden State.

“Our taxpayer dollars should be spent in the classroom to help our students, not used to enrich a company’s shareholders or drive up its profits,” Bonilla said in an interview.

But K12 spokesman Mike Kraft railed against the proposal, calling it “another cynical effort to take away the rights of parents to choose the way their kids are educated.”

How cynical are those “special interests” who want to take away K12 Inc.’s ability to profit while providing inferior education!?

That company is K12 Inc., a publicly traded Virginia firm that allows students who spend as little as one minute during a school day logged onto its software to be counted as “present,” as it reaps tens of millions of dollars annually in state funding while graduating fewer than half of its high school students. Students who live almost anywhere south of Humboldt County may sign up for one of the company’s schools.

Assemblywoman Bonilla was acting in response to a brilliant series of articles by Jessica Calefati in the San Jose Mercury News, exposing the profitable but educationally bankrupt K12 Inc., the corporation founded by the Milken brothers and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

I hope Assemblywoman Bonilla and the media will review the abundant research on K12 Inc, such as the Credo study or the NEPC study. What she will learn is that students in online charter schools lose ground and fall behind their peers in real schools.

If California chooses to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on bad schools to enrich the stockholders and the Milken family, shame on the legislators and the governor.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

http://ift.tt/1UowL7f

California ‘virtual’ academies: Bill targets for-profit operator K12 Inc.

By Jessica Calefati, jcalefati@bayareanewsgroup.com

Posted:
 
06/10/2016 05:42:47 PM PDT |Updated:   about 22 hours ago

Related Stories

SACRAMENTO — Online charter schools would be prohibited from hiring for-profit firms to provide instructional services under a new bill that the author says is a direct response to this newspaper’s investigation of the company behind a profitable but low-performing network of “virtual” academies.

That company is K12 Inc., a publicly traded Virginia firm that allows students who spend as little as one minute during a school day logged onto its software to be counted as “present,” as it reaps tens of millions of dollars annually in state funding while graduating fewer than half of its high school students. Students who live almost anywhere south of Humboldt County may sign up for one of the company’s schools.

File photo:Former California Virtual Academies student Elizabeth Novak-Galloway, 12, plays a video game on her laptop in her San Francisco home on Feb. 18, 2016. (Dai Sugano/Staff archives)

Assembly Bill 1084, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would prevent charter schools that do more than 80 percent of their teaching online from being operated by for-profit companies or hiring them to facilitate instruction. If passed and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the legislation would effectively put companies like K12 out of business in the Golden State.

“Our taxpayer dollars should be spent in the classroom to help our students, not used to enrich a company’s shareholders or drive up its profits,” Bonilla said in an interview.

But K12 spokesman Mike Kraft railed against the proposal, calling it “another cynical effort to take away the rights of parents to choose the way their kids are educated.”

“This bill is nothing more than a PR effort designed to appease big money special interests that hide in the shadows, harming California families,” Kraft wrote in an email, alluding to the support teachers unions have given to similar legislation in the past.

“Today, more than 14,000 California children attend virtual public charter schools, many in the Assemblymember’s own district,” Kraft added. “How many of their families has she spoken with before deciding to try to take away their choice?”

Before the newspaper’s two-part investigative series was published in April, Bonilla said, she didn’t know how wide the achievement gap was between students enrolled in K12’s California Virtual Academies and those who attend other public schools. But the more she learned about the company’s track record, the more she felt motivated to act.

The series highlighted research that shows online schools’ hands-off learning model isn’t appropriate for most children and found that accountability for student performance is sorely lacking. In fact, the districts tasked with overseeing K12’s California schools have a strong financial incentive to turn a blind eye to problems because they receive a cut of California Virtual Academies’ revenue to oversee them.

The stories also showed that the online schools are not really independent from K12, as the company claims. The academies’ contracts, tax records and other financial information suggest that K12 calls the shots, operating the schools to make money by taking advantage of laws governing charter schools and nonprofit organizations.

Earlier this month, another bipartisan group of lawmakers responded to the newspaper’s findings by calling for a wide-ranging state audit of for-profit charter schools.

“We’re already more than half way through the legislative session, so I knew we had to act quickly,” Bonilla said. “This bill is focused, targeted and designed to get through the legislative process this year.”

Because deadlines for introducing new legislation have already passed, Bonilla had to “gut and amend” another bill so that her new measure could move forward as soon as possible.

For the measure to advance, it must be approved by the Senate Education Committee before lawmakers break for the summer in early July. After they return in August, the bill would need to clear a floor vote in the Senate, a policy committee in the Assembly and an Assembly floor vote within a matter of weeks.

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, authored similar legislation last year, but Brown rejected Assembly Bill 787, writing in his veto message: “I don’t believe the case has been made to eliminate for-profit charter schools in California.”

The governor went on to state that “the somewhat ambiguous terms used in this bill could be interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors” such as textbook publishers or transportation providers.

Bonilla said she doesn’t know if Brown will support AB1084 — he typically doesn’t reveal his views on pending legislation before squashing it or signing it into law. But Bonilla said she attempted to address the governor’s concern about ambiguity by specifying in her bill that online charter schools can’t hire for-profit companies for instructional services. So the schools could still contract with publishers and private transportation companies.

“Profit doesn’t belong in public education, and taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be spent on for-profit instruction,” said Bonilla, who will be termed out in December. “This has been going on here for years, and it has to stop.”

To reach the governor’s desk by the end of August, AB1084 will likely need support from powerful interest groups such as the California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association. The CTA sponsored Hernandez’s bill, and while spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said the union would need more time to review Bonilla’s bill before taking a formal position, she said it sounded like “a bill we could get behind.”

Emily Bertelli, a California Charter Schools Association spokeswoman, has previously said the organization would support legislation that bans for-profit companies such as K12 from operating charter schools.

Asked to comment on AB1084, Colin Miller, the association’s acting senior vice president for government affairs, said the group is still evaluating the impact of the proposal’s language.

“The association has been committed to operational transparency, authorizer accountability and quality academic performance for all charter schools,” Miller said. “But we also want to ensure that optimal flexibility is maintained. We hope to work with the author to find the right solution.”

Contact Jessica Calefati at 916-441-2101. Follow her at Twitter.com/Calefati.

Jessica Calefati of the San Jose Mercury-News wrote a shocking series about the online charter schools of K12 Inc., which have the lowest graduation rate in the state, and which counts students “present” if they log on for only one minute.

Millions of public dollars fund the California Virtual Academies (CAVA), which operates for profit and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company, founded by Michael and Lowell Milken, delivers a substandard education. It should be closely supervised or shut down.

Unfortunately, as Calefati discovered, the legislature is moving at a snail’s pace to authorize an audit of CAVA. Nothing seems to be happening. Much clucking of tongues, but no action.

CAVA is the lowest performing school in the state. Why hasn’t it been shut down long ago? If you recall, K12’s online charter in Tennessee was the lowest performing school in the state, and not even the State Commissioner Kevin Huffman was able to get it closed. Why?

Governor Brown likes charters. When he was mayor of Oakland, he opened two charters. The legislature has been unwilling to stand up to the rich and powerful California Charter Schools Association. CCSA should be demanding close scrutiny of CAVA, whose tactics embarrasses all charter schools. Their silence is deafening.

When the legislature dared to pass a bill banning for-profit charters, Governor Brown vetoed it. He also vetoed a bill to require charter schools to ban conflicts of interest.

So California has a greedy, rapacious charter industry, whose growth will continue unchecked until public schools enroll only students the charters don’t want. Fraud, waste, and abuse in the charter industry will grow without oversight. Conflicts of interest and nepotism will proliferate. Charters will continue to be run by entrepreneurs and speculators.

Does anyone think these developments are “reform”? From a distance, they look like graft and corruption.

via Diane Ravitch’s blog

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