By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A new report from a statewide progressive group details the influence that the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has had on Florida’s education policy.
The report by Progress Florida, ALEC v Kids, “documents the growing footprint that ALEC has in Florida, and across the country including its unprecedented access to elected officials and the drafting of ‘model’ education policy designed to benefit ALEC’s corporate funders which compliant lawmakers then push into law,” the group wrote in a press release this week.
According to Progress Florida:
ALEC’s ties to Florida are reinforced by the connection with Former Governor Jeb Bush and his ALEC member Foundation for Excellence in Education. ALEC has taken model policies from FEE, and FEE has promoted policies taken from ALEC. Matthew Ladner, working at the time for the Goldwater Institute, introduced the ‘A-Plus literacy Act’ as an ALEC model bill based off the education policies, including vouchers, Former Governor Bush spearheaded in his tenure in Florida. Ladner then began working for FEE, where he works today. FEE’s digital learning statistics are used by ALEC for their report card, and Florida has enacted an ALEC model Virtual Public Schools Act. FEE supported the ALEC ‘Parent Trigger’ legislation that failed in Florida, voted down by the Senate 20-20.
ALEC’s education policies have been intertwined with Florida for more than a decade. In 1999 the Florida Legislature passed a bill as part of Governor Jeb Bush’s signature education reforms establishing the McKay Scholarship Program. The program is a voucher system to allow for disabled students to attend private schools. This program was the first of its kind. ALEC’s model ‘Special Needs Scholarship Program Act’ is based on the Florida McKay scholarships. Now, at least seven states have enacted similar programs. Although it was the first of its kind, Florida’s McKay scholarships are wrought with problems.
The report also highlighted some of the funders that both ALEC and Bush’s FEE share. Among them is K12 Inc.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting has done extensive reporting on K12, a Virginia-based for-profit operator of online schools.
K12 is one of the biggest online school providers in the country and currently operates in 43 Florida school districts, including in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval counties.
A recent inquiry by the Florida Department of Education’s Inspector General found that K12 Inc. employed three teachers in Florida who did not have proper certification to teach some subjects.
Last year, FCIR and NPR’s StateImpact Florida teamed up and reported on a state investigation launched into practices at K12.
K12 officials asked state-certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn’t taught, according to documents that are part of the investigation.
In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students. She only recognized seven names on that list.
According to Florida law, teachers must pass three exams to earn state certification as well as be certified for the subject and grades they teach.
The state investigation that FCIR and StateImpact Florida examined was sparked by a complaint from the Seminole County School District. It found at least three middle-school K12 teachers in Seminole County did not have proper subject certification. The investigation, however, did not find teachers without general certification, which was among the allegations in the original complaint from Seminole County.
According to Progress Florida, studies into K12 have questioned the quality of the education the company provides.
According the report:
“…Notably only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc. schools make adequate yearly progress—a national metric of measuring student achievement—and this figure is merely half nearly half the rate achieved by public face-to-face schools. The on-time graduation rate for K12 Inc. schools is 49.1percent, compared to 79.4 percent for all students in the states in which K12 Inc. operates.”
Progress Florida also found that K12 schools are not only lagging behind in performance, but they also have “fewer students qualifying for free-or-reduced-lunch, fewer students with disabilities, fewer ELL students, and fewer minority students.”
Furthermore, K12 Inc. is doing good business. In 2012, K12 Inc. experienced “a 35 percent increase in revenue to more than $700 million, the report found.”