Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Little Learning, Cooking the Books, Big Profits: Is This What Privatized Education Looks Like?

Core principles were on display in the Tennessee state house this week.  More fireworks coming Tuesday Feb. 19 when education committee hears from a parents group, which is rallying its supporters, while charter and privatization lobbyists work to get out on their own visibility at high noon.

It also was a week for irony...or, is it just that we have misguided legislators? 

Irony one: Charter School Caught Cheating on Tests 

Irony Two: This is Just Like Renting Chairs---Let's Double Down on Charters

Irony Three: To Help Schools, Let's Take Away their Money

1---TV reporter Phil Williams put a local angle on K12Inc.'s nationally known misdeeds, reporting that the for-profit charter school which operates as Tennessee Virtual Academy, the state's online school alternative, was caught cheating on test scores. 

You read that right; this is not a story about students cheating.  It's cheating by the for-profit corporation so they can pull as much Tennessee taxpayer money as possible across the state line to Virginia.  K12Inc. gets paid per head, so they make money when they keep enrollment high and when it appears students are succeeding. Link to story:

Moreover, this story was nothing new about K12Inc. (LRN-NYSE), which Republicans hustled across our borders in 2011.  K12Inc. not only has a bottom-scraping rank with the education results of its students, this is far from the first time K12Inc. has made headlines for manipulating its students' grades and other information.  Because K12Inc. gets paid per head, it has an incentive to keep as many students enrolled as possible, and if the students are not logging in (attending) or if they quit or move or get scratched for poor results or whatever reason, K12Inc. revenues drop---if they report it to the states where they operate. K12Inc. shareholders have filed a class-action suit which claims the company misled investors about such matters.  The New York Times did an investigative story in 2011 and interviewed Tennessee families who had just gotten started with K12Inc.

By the way, Rep. Mike Stewart proposed to cut off K12Inc. and repeal the bill that let them in; would you believe the education subcommittee cut off Stewart's bill rather than K12?

Link to NYT story:

None of this bad news seems to rattle K12's bottom line as they recently reported quarterly profits per share rose 118 per cent from the prior year's corresponding quarter.  K12 CEO Ron Packard got paid $3.94 million in 2012.  Quarterly revenues were $206 million, up about 23.7 per cent over the prior year's quarter. 

To further geek out on K12Inc.'s recent quarterly report:

2---Let's Double Down on Charters.  Amid this news about online charter K12Inc. and with some legislators and the state education commissioner complaining about bottom-ranking results from K12, Republicans were busy fast-tracking another Go-Charter bill at an education sub-commitee meeting on Tuesday Feb. 12.

Rep. Mark White of Germantown, on behalf of house speaker Beth Harwell, introduced House Bill 702, which would set up a state "chartering authority" with the power to override the wishes of locally elected school boards in Nashville and Memphis.  

AKA Harwell's Revenge, the bill only targets Shelby and Davidson Counties as it retaliates against Metro Nashville for defying the state's demand that Nashville welcome Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy as a charter school. Memphis, with its school systems merging and dealing with issues on many fronts, gets thrown in the mix additionally---Republican legislators east of the Tennessee River think Memphis should not be part of Tennessee, anyway. 

Oh, and Shelby and Davidson are the only counties who vote in the majority for Democrats for President.  To punish Nashville, middle-school style only with money, the state withheld about $4 million in funds Nashville was due from the state.  That's about the annual pay of K12's CEO. 

White's lengthy metaphor of public education as renting chairs rated high on the jaw-drop meter.  It seemed incredible that this man was leading the state of Tennessee into radical, education legislation while stating that schools must compete like the chair rental business he operates with his brother.  White said competition must be brought into the equation, and schools thus will get better or get crushed.  Public schools are not a business---education objectives should be for the good of the community---and should not have private profit as their driving force; further, narrow tests to a wide range  of students from different types of families in different neighborhoods should not be a matter of a school's life or death.  

Presiding over the education sub-committee meeting, White hustled along his bill to the full committee, which will consider it at noon Tuesday Feb. 19 in room HHR16. 

The sub-committee rejected a plea to make the bill apply to all Tennessee counties.  As a political maneuver, the Republicans are counting on legislators from rural counties going along with party leaders and not giving a crap about a law that will not afffect them.  However, once this law and this state mechanism get set up, its next move will be into the county where you live.

Metro Nashville school board member Amy Frogge said the new law will force "shotgun weddings" by consummating marriages between Metro schools and charter schools that circumvented Metro to get approved. 

The bill is so bad that even Republican vice-chair John Forgety expressed disbelief that Republicans were going against the principle that local control is best. 

We are talking about these same Republicans who holler about states' rights and stomp their boots in defiance of anything from the federal guvmit!  Yes, the same Republicans who repeat this frame: "Don't spend money growing big government bureaucracy."  Won't this new state body have to be staffed and resourced?

By the way, even though this bill will take local matters out of the hands of two counties, Shelby and Davidson will still be expected to pay for the charter schools that slip in through this back door.

Arizona-based charter school Great Hearts Academy seems poised for national expansion, much like the growth pattern of a fast food franchise.  Former Vice-President Dan Quayle's son recently donated $1 million to Great Hearts, which is a non-profit that enjoys favored tax treatment, for a multi-million-dollar Great Hearts construction project in Arizona.  That sounds like---Wall Street, here we come!

Williamson County legislators who are not worried about this bill because they think Williamson County has good schools and, therefore, charters will never come calling, got surprised this week as an agrarian-themed charter school application announced its intentions.  So rattled was Williamson Superintendent Mike Looney that he said he would hire lobbyists to pitch the TN General Assembly.

The companion bill in the Senate is SB 830, sponsored by Dolores Gresham of Somerville.

Link to Tennessean story:

3---Let's Take Money Away from Public Schools and Privatize It or 'Theocracize' It.  Republicans are also barrelling ahead with an unconstitutional voucher bill, which would take public school money and put it into the hands of religious schools and for-profit corporations. 

The charters are run by non-profits and, so far, no religious-oriented charters have been allowed.  The voucher schools will have even less oversight than the charters as they will be independent of the local school boards.  The voucher scheme positions its schools as "private," whether they are religious or for-profit. Thus, taxpayer money would be supporting religious teachings in an affront to the First Amendment, which requires freedom of and freedom from religion.  Thomas Jefferson's "letter to the Danbury Baptists" in 1802 about a "wall of separation between church and state" is a much better metaphor than the one about renting chairs.  Link:

The vouchers sprang from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation which has taken hold in 15 states and which is called (ironically, again) the "opportunity scholarship" program.  

Not surprisingly, we see K12Inc. surfacing in various locations as voucher programs expand nationwide.  In Washington DC, K12 has applied to have a 550-pupil school as an online-bricks and mortar hybrid for profit.  Growth potential in the U.S. education industry is putting the Wall Street wind in K12's sails.  Link:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a story on the voucher scheme at  The organization's web site is  The voucher bill in the house is HB 190 (sponsored by Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga), and the companion bill in the Senate is SB 196 (Mark Norris of Collierville).

The parents group, Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools, has good info posted at
    or Facebook: Standing Together 4.
The parents urge people, regardless of your district, to voice opposition to the charter authorizer and voucher bills.  Charter bill is led by House speaker Beth Harwell, with Rep. White carrying water for her.  Harwell's phone number is 615-741-0709 and her email is:

House education committee main number 615-741-6879.  Tara is executive asst.; Rep. Harry Brooks is chairman.  Rep. John Forgety is vice-chair.

An excellent resource for legislators' contacts and for tracking bills, even for watching video of committee meetings, is the state general assembly web site:

House education committee members' email addresses:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Senate Education Committee members:

Last word: All of that said, what affects education results and test scores most is demographics---how much money a student's parents have and where they live.  That applies across the board, regardless of whether the school is public, private, charter, etc.  It appears we are headed back to "separate but equal," which was litigated by the Supreme Court in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education.

Just as free public education lifted America over the last 100 years with an equalizing of opportunity, which led to broad prosperity and an expansion of civil and human rights, the dismantling of free public education will accelerate the dumbing down of America, will expand poverty, will weaken our economy and will leave us with a feudal system of lords and serfs.

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