State Superintendent of Public Schools Sherri Ybarra says that she trusts parents. That’s good. But the real question is should parents trust Sherri Ybarra?

And what does Ybarra and a student rally have to do with the American Legislative Exchange Council?

On Tuesday, Ybarra joined hundreds of school children on the steps of the State Capitol to tout the virtues of charter schools and “parental choice.”

“We need to get back to the conversations about what works,” she told Betsy Russell from the Spokesman-Review. “That was the reason that we created charter schools, so that we can learn from one another.”

In Idaho, Charter schools are growing in popularity with 8,700 students waiting to enroll.

Charter schools are also big business. The company that runs two of the Gem State’s largest charter schools K12 Inc. reported 2014 revenues of $919 million.

K12-Revenue-Graph

K12 has not only tapped into tremendous revenues, it has no qualms about its political activities. In the past four years, the Virginia-based company has contributed to the campaigns of Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, ex-Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Luna, Gov. Butch Otter and current Superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

K12’s reach goes all the way to Washington, D.C. You’ll find K12 Vice President Don Lee on the Private Enterprise Council of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which foisted 139 bills in 2013 on state legislatures that attempt to shift public education money into private/charter schools. Two of those were in Idaho: HB 286 and HB 227. Neither passed.

Coincidentally, Lee has a degree from the University of Phoenix, a for-profit university at the center of a 2012 Senate investigation into for-profit colleges that found questionable business practices in “almost every aspect the industry.” The industry is funded, by the way, through taxpayer dollars in the form of student loans.

Just like for-profit colleges, K12 has its share of problems as well. An analysis of the company in 2012 found it spent $21.5 million on advertising in the first eight months of that year, equating to $340 per student.

Its scholastic results have also come under scrutiny. A New York Times investigation found evidence that K12 habitually places profits over education.

“Some teachers at K12 schools said they felt pressured to pass students who did little work. Teachers have also questioned why some students who did no class work were allowed to remain on school rosters, potentially allowing the company to continue receiving public money for them.”

The same investigation found possible instances of fraud.

“State auditors found that the K12-run Colorado Virtual Academy counted about 120 students for state reimbursement whose enrollment could not be verified or who did not meet Colorado residency requirements. Some had never logged in.”

Still, K12 remains a powerful and growing influence in the for-profit education industry. On Tuesday, its influence was seen on the steps of the State Capitol as hundreds of children waved yellow scarves to support school choice.

The event was promoted by K12 through this website.

Virtual academy screenshot

 

This is the banner to the webpage for K12’s largest charter school.

Virtual academy screehshot 2

Here are photos of the event as posted on the Idaho Charter School Network’s Facebook page.

Ex-Supt. of Public Schools Tom Luna (left) and Sec. of State Lawerence Denney (right) speak at the rally inside the Capitol. Charter school students (center) wave yellow scarves during the rally.
Ex-Supt. of Public Schools Tom Luna (left) and Sec. of State Lawerence Denney (right) speak inside the Capitol. Charter school students (center) wave yellow scarves during the rally.

The rally featured some familiar speakers: Luna, Denney, First Lady Lori Otter and, of course, Ybarra, who enthusiastically supported the message, “Trust Parents.”

It’s impossible to disagree. Of course parents should be trusted.

Beyond the platitudes, supporters of charter schools are connected, directly or indirectly, to a large corporation that spends millions on advertising, churns a steady profit and uses public education money to lobby state legislatures for more public education money. It even writes its own legislation.

The scheme is profitable. And that’s the point. Corporations are designed to grow and make profits. In its 2014 annual report, K12 doesn’t try to hide that fact.

“Operationally, we are meeting the challenge of creating greater efficiencies across our company to deliver strong financial performance. This year, we grew revenue at 8.4 percent, year-over year, and more than doubled free cash flow.”

Meanwhile, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts rely on supplemental levies to backfund state shortfalls. Since 2006, that has cost local taxpayers nearly $1 billion. In addition, more than 40 of Idaho’s school districts are on a four-day week, not because it’s beneficial to the children’s education, but because it saves money.

Levy-tax-graph

We’re glad Superintendent Ybarra trusts parents. We do too. We’re just not sure how much parents can trust Ybarra.