Virtual charter company gets pushback in Western N.C.

Cabarrus County didn’t give the warmest welcome to a virtual charter school company that‘s hoping to use the Western North Carolina county to slide into the larger North Carolina’s education market.

The company, K-12, Inc. (NYSE: LRN), wants the school district (which is located just outside of Charlotte) to sponsor an application to the N.C. State Board of Education to open up the state’s first virtual charter school. Then, the company (operating under a yet-to-be created non-profit in order to comply with state laws) would enroll students statewide, siphoning off money from various school districts and sending Cabarrus County a cut of the money their trouble . (Read our investigative article from December to learn more about K12 in North Carolina).

The company hopes to have 2,750 students within a few years, at a cost of $18 million to taxpayers for a quality of education that critics have said is questionable and puts profits before children.

The Cabarrus County School board held a meeting Monday, and several board members questioned why the company wanted to enter the state’s market through them, according to the Concord Independent Tribune.

The Concord newspaper’s piece is worth reading, here’s a snippet:

Board member Cindy Fertenbaugh spoke first about the matter [K12] at this week’s meeting, calling it a heavy risk with low reward. She said she had far too many questions about it, beginning with the legal and policy side.

“It is not our responsibility to address perceived needs in the state,” Fertenbaugh said. “When we all of a sudden jump into something that is going to affect our neighbors, our peers…and we haven’t done that analysis for ourselves, I feel like we put the cart before the horse. (We need to) focus on what we need.”

She added that the system gets excited when it receives funding back from the state that it previously lost from students leaving the system to attend charter schools.

“I don’t think we need to be distracted and introduce anything that could possibly change our student population in that dramatic of a way,” Fertenbaugh said.

The quality of K12’s education has been debated widely in the news media. A December New York Times article found significant problems (overcharging Colorado taxpayers $800,000 for students who didn’t attend classes, students falling well below grade level) and concluded that the company “squeeze(s) profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards. “

An equally extensive November article about K12 in the Washington Post was full of  details about how K12 runs its business, including how it lobbies. In case you’re wondering what they’ve done here, the company has already hired 7 lobbyists in North Carolina as well as former state Rep. Jeff Barnhart from — just guess — Cabarrus County. Barnhart left the legislature last year to pursue a lobbying career.

Barnhart is the one who introduced Cabarrus County to K12, when he called up his former constituents at the Cabarrus school district to talk about the benefits of his new client.

From the Post article:

K12 has hired lobbyists from Boise to Boston and backed political candidates who support school choice in general and virtual education in particular. From 2004 to 2010, K12 gave about $500,000 in direct contributions to state politicians across the country, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“We understand the politics of education pretty well,” [K12 CEO Ronald] Packard told investors recently.

 

3 Comments

  1. Jeff S

    January 14, 2012 at 1:30 am

    Sub-par education being peddled by political insiders to an unwary public. That may be being too generous. More accurate would be to say that they are using corporate profits to pay legislators kickbacks for giving them the contracts.

    Anyone who has looked into the K12 curriculum should be appalled that this is even up for discussion.

  2. Shel Anderson

    January 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    The Washington Post has had several articles about Virginia Foxx and the very high amounts of donations received from charter school advocates and organizations.

  3. Frances Jenkins

    January 18, 2012 at 6:22 am

    What about the children in low performing schools? We spend more than any nation in the world on education per child, yet we are ranked 20th in math and science. Sarah, you have invented a story.