‘Education Reform’ is Just More Pay to Play

     K-12 Public Education in America is a $661 billion dollar undertaking. Up to now it’s been government operated. And while there is definitely room for improvement in public education, most of us when asked, believe we’ve received a decent education at our local neighborhood schools. Throughout the country, local school districts employ millions of teachers, secretaries, nurses, custodians and administrators who spend their hard earned money in the local community thereby benefitting us all.      But under the guise of “education reform” Governor Susana Martinez and Education Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera have launched an effort to take New Mexico’s share of that money and hand it over to privately run out of state corporations like K12, Inc. Why? Well for starters, these companies gave a bunch of money to Martinez’s gubernatorial election campaign.   K12, Inc. is the nations largest operator of “virtual public schools”. A major component of the so-called “Florida Model” championed by Jeb Bush through his Foundation for Excellence in Education and Digital Learning Council, involves getting students out of actual classrooms so they can learn at home alone by the computer. Conservatives throughout the country that have never taught school have all labeled distance learning the future of education. Here’s why: As notorious gangster Louis “Lepke” Buchalter understood, if you control the distribution, you make all of the money. And that’s where K12, Inc. comes in. K12, Inc. distributes a “proprietary curriculum”, engages heavily in “student recruitment and marketing” all while incurring “significant lobbying costs” in order to protect it’s financial interests (pocketing our tax dollars).

     Sounds a whole lot more like a business operation than a school doesn’t it?

     Ronald J. Packard, the head of K12, Inc. and formerly of Goldman Sachs Mergers and Acquisitions Division, (You know, the guys that helped to cause the great recession!) was part of the inner circle of Bush’s Digital Learning Council. Packard pulls down an annual salary of $759,696 and that doesn’t include the millions he earns by selling stock options. K12, Inc.’s annual revenue is about  $384.5 million dollars based upon a student enrollment of 66,811 ($5,755 per student with no school buildings to own, operate, maintain or staff). Though this figure is surely to rise under the wave of Republican governors, like Martinez, that were elected in 2010. The next highest paid officers of K12, Inc. have annual salaries of $657,657, $391,223, $380,708 and $359,776 again those figures don’t include the stock options they sell. 

     K12, Inc. employs 1,065 (all non-union) people of which only 306 are teachers. That’s approximately 28% of the employees. Contrast that with APS, a frequent target of Martinez and Skandera for spending too much on administration costs, has 13,304 total employees about half of which, 6542, are full time teachers. Further APS has close to 90,000 students, which it manages on a budget of $594 Million.

    K12, Inc. based in Virginia contributed $5,000 to Susana Martinez’s 2010 gubernatorial election campaign. What did that money buy? Senate Bill 427. This bill introduced by Vernon Asbill, written with input from Foundation for Excellence in Education, is best known for creating the A-F grading system for New Mexico’s public schools. The bill by Asbill, sought to allow any student attending a failing school the “right to have the student continue schooling by means of distance learning offered through statewide cyber academy or a cyber academy currently offered and approved by any other state. The school district or charter school in which the student is enrolled is responsible for the cost of the distance learning.” Guess who would qualify under Asbill’s wording for all that taxpayer money? You guessed it! K12, Inc. Susana Martinez got  a $5,000 contribution and in exchange K12, Inc. was in line for millions of our tax dollars.

    So, according to SB 427 if the public school is failing according to grading standards created by Martinez (the recipient of the payment) and Skandera, the public is still on the hook for all the money paid per student, but instead of being used for local salaries, that money would be sent to the operators of “virtual charter schools”.  While the Democratic legislature watered down the bill to eliminate cyber academies approved in other states, it’s no problem for K12, Inc. K12, Inc. operates as sub-contractors to local charter schools in states where a local cyber academy is required by law.

     Martinez and Skandera tout K-12 distance learning as a proven and effective way to raise standardized test scores. Despite all of the money paid to K-12, Inc. to run these programs, K-12, Inc. is a little bit more honest about the results, “Virtual public schools that we serve generally test near state averages on standardized tests.” So, they get paid a boatload of tax dollars to fatten their massive salaries just by remaining average!

     INX, Inc. a Houston, Texas firm who specializes in the sales and installation of distance learning infrastructure, kicked in $5,000 to Martinez’s campaign. Martinez also received thousands of dollars from Virginia and DC based lobbyists whose clients include virtual education companies. While it’s not the huge sum that Martinez raked in from energy companies, it’s still pretty significant.

     Finally, Pitsco Education of Kansas, a small provider of K-12 distance learning programs ponied up $500 to Martinez. Thanks to SB 427, it didn’t even require a large contribution to get to a slice of the pie at taxpayer expense!

     So how much is at stake for these companies from the taxpayers of New Mexico. For fiscal year 2011, Susana Martinez called for a contingency fund of $53 million to go towards education reform versus $19 million contingency fund for education reform in 2010. It really pays to play!

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