Virtual Schools Bill Tied to Lobbyist, ALEC and a Legislator’s Longtime Interest

(Note: The News Sentinel ran this story by yours truly along with the CA report noted in post below.)
Rep. Harry Brooks says he worked with a lobbyist on legislation that cleared the way for Union County to operate an online school system with K12 Inc., but was unaware that the bill was based on a model drafted by an organization of conservative state legislators.
The Knoxville Republican said in an interview that his interest in providing virtual schools to students dates back to his service on the Knox County School Board several years ago when he studied use of such efforts at the county’s juvenile detention facility.
Portions of the bill (HB1030) are identical to a model law developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization for state legislators largely funded by corporations. ALEC has sometimes been controversial, and last week the Center for Media and Democracy posted on the Internet some 800 model ALEC bills along with critical commentary..
Brooks, former chairman of the House Education Committee, said he shared an interest in using online materials for educating children with state Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville.
Lobbyist Beth Winstead approached him earlier this year about the proposal, he said.

“She knew David Hawk and I were very interested in remote learning,” Brooks said, and she suggested: “We see if we can move forward with that this year and I said, ‘I’m game.’ ”
Winstead is a partner in the lobbying firm of McMahan Winstead Hafner & Alexander, which was retained by K12 Inc. She declined comment.
Brooks said a legislative attorney handled actual drafting of the legislation and that Winstead may have provided a copy of the ALEC model. But he noted that the legislation was revised several times as it went through the process. A comparison of the language in the ALEC model with the final bill indicates about half the language is identical.
Brooks said he does not believe enactment of the legislation will cost the state any significant amount of money and should not cause problems for schools that lose students to the new Union County online school administered by Union County.
New state money would be triggered if homeschooled students, who now are not subsidized by the state, begin collecting state payments. But Brooks said he believes a separate state law would prevent that from happening, “though I’d have to check.”
“I don’t see it as a way for anybody to rip anyone off,” he said.
Legislative staff estimated in a “fiscal note” that the bill’s enactment would cost the state about $2.8 million.

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