Union County officials have been tight lipped on about why Union County School Superintendent Wayne Goforth was suspended this week without pay for 15 days, reports the News Sentinel.
Further, Goforth’s attorney has filed a lawsuit against the school board. Goforth is asking the court to void the suspension, remove the four board members from office and require the defendants personally pay his salary during the suspension.
(Note: As far as statewide news goes, the most prominent thing about Goforth has been his involvement in securing a contract for Union County serving as the center for operation of a virtual schools program, as authorized by legislation approved earlier this year. K-12 Inc. gets about $5,300 per student enrolled; Union County gets 4 percent of that. Previous posts HERE and HERE, for example.)
From the KNS report:
Brian Oaks, the school board’s chairman, said Thursday the board’s attorney is looking at a couple issues, but wouldn’t elaborate on what they were. But, he said, the suspension is not a result of the district’s budget woes.
For months, the board has been trying to balance its budget for next school year, only approving one Wednesday night — during the same meeting it suspended Goforth — that would keep schools open.
“We’re out of money. We’re depending on state and federal moneys,” Oaks said. “To suspend Mr. Goforth had nothing to do with the budget. It’s just an investigation being done by our attorney.”
Goforth became director of the Union County Schools in 2008, when he signed a four-year contract.
He has been advised by his attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, not to discuss the suspension.
Moncier said Thursday he still hadn’t received any information on the pending charges.
“There is no provision of the law for them to do what they did (Wednesday) night,” he said. “We knew in September they were putting on the docket to terminate him. We didn’t know, and still don’t know, any of the grounds.”
… (Board Chairman Mark) DeVault didn’t comment specifically on the what the charges are against Goforth, but said there could be a combination of things that led up to the suspension.
“But more speculation leads to more speculation and more problems,” he said. “I pray and hope we can work this out but it could get worse before it gets better.”
DeVault didn’t comment specifically on the what the charges are against Goforth, but said there could be a combination of things that led up to the suspension.
“But more speculation leads to more speculation and more problems,” he said. “I pray and hope we can work this out but it could get worse before it gets better.”
The superintendent of Union County schools, who oversees a new “virtual school” operation operated by a private company under a new state law, tells Andy Sher that some other school systems are not approving transfers of their students to the virtual school. In issue are students who missed a deadline.
As previously reported, more than 1,000 students seeking to enroll in the virtual school have been unable to do so for one reason or another. Denial of transfer is one reason.
Under state law, (Superintendent Wayne) Goforth said, students seeking to transfer after the open enrollment date “have to seek the approval of the sending district, and that has caused us a lot of ups and downs.”
“A lot of times the directors don’t want to give permission for them to leave,” Goforth said. “And that’s their choice. I guess they don’t want to lose their [state] funding because in Tennessee, the funding follows the child.”
He estimated the county receives about $5,300 in state funds for every child who attends the Tennessee Virtual Academy. Goforth said he hears from parents that “one of the main” systems denying approval of late transfers is the Hamilton County schools system.
Hamilton County Schools Director Rick Smith said he has denied approving the transfers of 14 students, who were enrolled in the local school system last year, because their applications were late.
He said he only got an email from Goforth on Aug. 6 — days after the July 24 transfer deadline — listing 26 students seeking a late transfer.
Twelve had not been public school students at all, Smith said, and presumably had attended private schools or were being home-schooled. He said he had no authority regarding them.
Smith said after talking to parents of students and parents of those outside the public school system, he learned that families learned about the Tennessee Virtual Academy at various times following an advertising and promotion push by K12.
Smith said the district abides by deadlines for Hamilton County parents wishing to get their children into the system’s highly desirable magnet schools. It should be no different in approving late transfers.
He noted he has no idea how many local students might have applied and enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy prior to the July 24 deadline. The system has no power over their transfer, he said.
Sen. Andy Berke says in a Chattanooga TFP op-ed that the Virtual Public Schools Act is “possibly the most destructive piece of legislation” approved by the General Assembly.
(The act) funnels thousands of Tennessee public education dollars to a convicted felon, high-profile Washington figures and millionaire executives who live around the world. The governor signed the bill into law, only later saying that he would have to “think through the consequences” of the legislation. The consequences, simply put, will be devastating to our public schools.
In a year marked by bills attacking teachers, the virtual schools law could do the most damage to Tennessee education. Never before have we given taxpayer money to a massive corporation and said, “Educate our children however you want.” But that’s what lawmakers did with K12, a massive corporation that expects to generate $500 million in revenue this year.
K12 has proved that its lobbyists — at least 10 of them over the past five years — know what they’re doing. The company began advertising online for its Tennessee virtual school before the bill even passed. Soon after the bill was passed, K12 began running radio ads and holding meetings for interested parents.
…. All across our state, schools don’t have adequate resources. Now, they’ll have even less. For each student K12 attracts, at least $5,387 — the state’s per-pupil spending — will go to Union County Public Schools, which contracted with K12 so it could operate in Tennessee. If Union County’s deal is similar to other K12 contracts, the school system will skim an operating fee off the top — somewhere around $215 per student — and send the rest straight to K12.
The company then keeps the funds for its operations, even though it has no cafeterias to manage, no playgrounds that need upkeep, and no secretaries, nurses or janitors to pay. K12 charges taxpayers the full price to educate a student, and then works to maximize its profit.
Note: Previous post on similar thoughts from House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.
In a post on his blog at the Dyersburg State Gazette, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh gives his reasons for opposing the new “virtual schools bill” enacted earlier this year under Republican sponsorship.
First, I opposed this bill because public education is not intended to be a for-profit business. Tennessee’s constitution requires us to provide free public education to every student in the state. Under HB 1030, school boards can now charge tuition to students for virtual schools. Additionally, millions of your tax-payer dollars will go to private companies and the state will still be forced to provide computer and internet access to students enrolled in these for- profit virtual schools. This goes against the spirit of public education and is fiscally irresponsible.
Second, I opposed this bill because it is a prime example of special interest groups infiltrating the legislative process. K-12 Inc is a multi-million dollar virtual schools company founded by a convicted felon. During the last legislative session, K-12 Inc hired 3 lobbyists to push through the virtual schools bill. Don’t be fooled, K-12 Inc didn’t do this because they care about education; they did it because they stand to make millions by starting for-profit, tuition charging schools with your tax-payer dollars.
Finally, I opposed this bill because it is a step too far. While I support virtual education programs for homebound students or for students wanting to take more advanced classes not offered in their school, I am opposed to this legislation because it promotes for-profit virtual schools as an alternative to traditional, in-classroom learning. It is irresponsible to do this because, as the National Education Policy Center points out, we have no data to show us how these for-profit virtual schools will perform against traditional public schools. Until we have this data, it is premature to use tax-payer money to open hundreds of for-profit virtual schools.
About 2,100 students have signed up for virtual classes with the Union County school system, which has about 3,000 regular students, reports Chas Sisk.
As of last week, 872 students had been cleared to take classes, and 941 applicants were still being processed. An additional 341 had asked to transfer into the school from other districts.
The school, known as the Tennessee Virtual Academy, combines elements of home schooling with the requirements of a public school and the emerging field of distance learning. But only six weeks after it was launched, the school has plenty of critics.
The Tennessee Virtual Academy takes advantage of a state law that went into effect July 1 that allows districts to set up “virtual schools” open to any student in the state. Funding comes entirely from state tax dollars, at no cost to the districts or parents
….”Home schools have, in the past, not had their expenses paid by the state,” said Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, which represents public school teachers. “Should the state be paying a for-profit company to be educating kids at a kitchen table on a computer?”
Proponents, however, say virtual schools are less costly and supplement the options already available to parents, including private, magnet, charter and traditional public schools.
“It’s another option. It’s another choice,” said Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 (which operates the virtual school).
…Funding for the school comes from the state, which allocates money to districts through its Basic Education Program. Union County will receive about $5,300 for each student who enrolls in the school.
The district’s relationship with K12 was set this summer in a no-bid contract, which is allowed under state law because the company is the only vendor that can operate a school that is entirely online, (Union County School Superintendent Wayne) Goforth said.
The contract lets the district keep 4 percent of the state’s funding as an administrative fee. The rest will be passed along to K12, which pays teacher salaries and provides materials, including computers.
K12, which is publicly traded, reported earnings of $21.5 million last year on revenue of$384.5 million. The company has been in operation since 2000 and has set up online schools like the Tennessee Virtual Academy in 29 states. K12 also offers other distance learning services.
State officials are anxious to see how many students across Tennessee enroll in a public “virtual school” run by a for-profit Virginia company — and how much state taxpayer money automatically follows them, reports Richard Locker.
Sales teams for K12 Inc. on Friday completed a two-week sales blitz, holding information meetings in a dozen towns and cities for families interested in the new Tennessee Virtual Academy.
Enrollment deadline for the new school year is today. Corporate spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said Friday he didn’t have enrollment numbers yet, but that “interest is high. Demand for online public schools is strong in Tennessee as it is in every state.”
…Gov. Bill Haslam, who signed the bill into law in June, said last week that he’s just now learning its full impact.
“I’m growing increasingly familiar with it. It’s something I want to understand the ramifications a lot better. I understand how (virtual education) could be very beneficial; you could offer subjects that aren’t offered other places. But I do think we have to think through the consequences a little bit more than we’ve done so far.”
Stephen Smith of the state Department of Education said the bill contains no cap on enrollment or funding. “This is new ground and I think it’s something everyone is going to take a close look at.”
State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who fought the bill, says he anticipated what has happened. “Among the many attacks on teachers and our schools last session, this could be the most damaging to our children and to taxpayers and to our schools. It’s going to be an enormous transfer of taxpayer dollars from the state and the only question is how much of the pie is absorbed by the out-of-state for-profit company and how much by one single county.”
(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.
Having signed a deal with Union County schools to operate an online education program, K12 Inc. is now soliciting parents across the state to sign up for the program, the Commercial Appeal reports.
Several of the parents who attended K12 meetings in Memphis and Nashville said they homeschool their children.
That will amount to at least $5,387 in state tax dollars for every student enrolled in the program, according to the state Department of Education. A legislative fiscal analysis concluded there is no way to determine how many students would enroll.
For (Memphis parent Denita) Alhammadi, the last straw was when Memphis school leaders classified her son as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder.
“My son is an advanced learner. Of course he’s going to be bored if he finishes way ahead of everyone else and has to just sit there,” she said.
She was among about 40 parents who showed up at the Orange Mound Community Center for the K12 meeting. Most stayed the entire two hours, learning about the boxes and boxes of taxpayer-funded books and supplies that will be delivered to their homes – including computers and high-speed Internet access for those who qualify – and the ways in which they can take charge of their children’s learning.
“We have principals and teachers on the ground,” said Heidi Higgins, K12’s sales rep in Tennessee. “We will provide the lessons, all the books, materials and supplies you can ever imagine.
Higgins emphasized that parents who “can turn on a computer and open up a browser” should have no trouble.
And, she said, “We are not going to penalize a child for being swift” and buzzing through a lesson. Conversely, a child who needs to slow down, she said, will be right at home with K12.
“Of course, you have already paid for this. This is a visible sign of your tax dollars at work,” she said.
…Wayne Goforth, director of the Union County school system, isn’t surprised at the interest. “I can tell you, from the figures I have seen, that there is very, very big need in (the) state of Tennessee for this program.
“I can see it appealing to people who have done homeschooling. I can see it being interesting to people paying a lot for private school and for families who, for some reason, are not wanting to send their child to the public schools in their community.”
As the fiscal agent, Union County is responsible for administering the details, including overseeing special education services.
If other districts are upset that they may be losing enrollment and state funding to Union County, Goforth is not sympathetic.
The House and Senate both approved Saturday legislation that clears the way for private and non-profit corporations to open and operate “virtual schools” in Tennessee.
The House approved the bill (HB1030) after killing amendments pushed by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, including one that would have prohibited corporations from running the schools in Tennessee if a convicted felon owns more than 5 percent interest in the company.
The amendment, Stewart said, was aimed at K-12, Inc., founded by Michael Miliken, who Stewart said was once known as “the junk bond king” and was convicted of six felony counts of fraud. He set up the company after completing his prison term.
Stewart said “highly-paid lobbyists” were pushing the bill. K-12 has three registered lobbyists for the current session.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville, said K-12 ‘s stock is held by a limited liability company and thus Stewart’s amendment might not preclude the company from operating. Also, he said the amendment might create a “fiscal note” – or an expense for state government — which would jeopardize passage of the bill on the last day of session.
The bill passed the House 61-26. The vote was 20-10 in the Senate.
The measure also came under attack in the Senate, where Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said it sets “a dangerous precedent” and could lead to public school money being siphoned off by private corporations.
But Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, said the bill gives local school boards full control and they can be trusted to prevent any misdeeds.
Berke said K-12 pays it’s top executive $2.5 million and other executives between $500,000 and $1.7 million per year.
Berke offered an amendment to declare private companies cannot operate “virtual schools,” leaving them to the schools themselves. The amendment was killed on a party line vote.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
Stewart: “Why are we proposing to turn over Tennessee education
tax dollars to convicted felon and junk bond king Michael Milken?”
NASHVILLE (May 18, 2011) – Legislation (HB1030/SB0874) would open up local school budgets to operators of so-called “cyber” schools – Internet operations that in other states have drained millions of dollars from local schools and given rise to allegations of fraud and mismanagement, said Rep. Mike Stewart this week.
One that stands to gain from this legislation is convicted felon Michael Milken, who became famous for leading the junk bond firm Drexel Burnham Lambert in deals that ultimately led to his guilty plea and jail time for fraud.
Because of his conviction, Milken is banned from Wall Street for life. His new plan for getting money involves “cyber” schools. Milken is the founder of and, through a web of holding companies, a major investor in the company K12, Inc., which is orchestrating a major lobbying effort to push for HB1030/SB0874.
K12, Inc. makes money by charging school systems for education materials delivered over the internet. At least one expert has recognized that, nationally, “cyber” schools receive the same amount of funding as traditional schools even though they don’t have to pay for buildings, ball fields and teachers in classrooms. This has allowed “cyber” schools to turn public money into private profits – the CEO of K12, Inc., for example, made over two million dollars last year.
Stewart noted that the Tennessee Department of Education already offers inexpensive, high quality internet classes.
“Why would we turn over hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to for-profit companies for something our state already provides at a low cost?” Stewart asked. “Turning over our tax dollars to a company founded by a convicted felon sends the wrong message. Tennessee voters should be very concerned that Michael Milken is not looking out for our schoolchildren and is just looking for another way to enrich himself at the expense of Tennessee’s taxpayers.”
Stewart questioned the math that permits “cyber” school operators to charge top dollar without investing in teachers and facilities on the ground in Tennessee.
“In other states, so called ‘cyber’ schools have drained funds away from real schools while providing no measurable education benefits. Common sense tells us that paying thousands of dollars per student for an internet based program with no buildings and no live interaction with teachers is a bad deal for taxpayers,” Stewart said