In a bottom-line world, let's examine the bottom line

Virtual charter schools in the spotlight
By Scott Mooneyham | Feb 03, 2014


RALEIGH — A top executive from a for-profit online education company has been making the rounds lately trying to sell the idea of a virtual charter school to state policymakers.

Mary Gifford, who is senior vice president for education policy at K12 Inc., spoke to a study group made up of state education officials last week. Gifford was scheduled to speak to state legislators this week.

Gifford's expertise regarding the company that she works for is probably unquestionable, but those legislators and education officials are probably quizzing the wrong person.

Instead of hearing from the company's academic expert, they should be talking to the firm's chief accountant.

After all, if a for-profit company is looking for a slice of taxpayer money and some of that money will ultimately go to investors in the company, shouldn't the guardians of the taxpayer dollar have a clear understanding of the financial pressures facing the firm?

Shouldn’t they, for example, know about the company's current profit margin, and how the company has responded historically when that margin rises or falls? Shouldn't they know, when the number has fallen, whether the company has cut expenses, and what kind of expenses might have been cut? If they have responded by trying to increase revenue, shouldn't they know that too?

If educating kids is now a simple financial proposition, and taxpayers are the paying customers, then let's allow the customers to have a good look under the company's financial hood and kick the tires a bit.

And let's examine the warranties provided by the company and whether they have made good on them in the past.

Maybe we can also look for a copy of Consumer Reports, and find out how the magazine ranks the widgets coming off the K12 assembly line.

Of course, education is not a simple financial proposition.

The state has a duty to provide for an education to school-age children. The state constitution mandates that the elected officials of North Carolina "guard and maintain that right.

Allowing profit motives to enter into the equation is a clear dereliction of that constitutional duty.

For years, state legislators, policy wonks and educators in North Carolina have been battling over school choice and what kind of balance regarding choice is best for all children.

With its embrace of private school vouchers and the elimination of a cap on charter schools, the Republican-controlled legislature has sided with more choice. Even as critics question whether those decisions might erode resources for public schools, the moves are still part of a legitimate debate about where the balance should be struck.

The idea that for-profit schools are a part of that same legitimate debate is delusional when considering that children may suffer so that investors might profit.

The mere entertainment of the idea is a mark against those doing the entertaining.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 04, 2014 09:32

Imagine this:  The State declares "profit" should no longer be considered for road-building and took over the road-building industry.  Now the State will have a road-building union and professional lobbyists to provide continual pressure on the State to provide more funding and dream up ways to increase spending.  The "administrators" of those that get to choose how the money is spent and those that are hired to build the roads become well-fed and experts at public policy (more so than road building).  They'll adopt one of the two political parties so that they can say those associated with them are "pro-roads" and anyone not willing to give more money is "anti-roads".  And if anyone wants to build a road with a private company, they must pay with taxes for the public road-builders and then pay again for a private company to actually build the road.


If the intent is to build quality roads, why would the State care who builds them so long as the roads are built well measured by whatever means is appropriate?  If someone can build roads cheaper and better, shouldn't the State embrace and support that someone?  Why should the State harm private business by taking away most of the business from private road-building companies?  What good comes of creating a near-monopoly in the road-building business?  What happens when road-builders suddenly have only one boss-man called The State?  If road quality goes down and road costs go up, how easy would it be to uproot entrenched government sponsors that fight any significant improvement to road-building -- especially when significant change becomes a messy proposition?  How much would we hear "it's all about the roads" while the people building roads fight to get people not giving them more money thrown out of office?


Now replace "road-building" in the above with "public education" and see how Mr. Mooneyham's points are invalid.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 05, 2014 09:09

           Roads are not constitutionally mandated.

           Roads don't have rights.

           Teachers do not bid on their jobs.

            If a road fails you can destroy it and start over.

            Roads don't have conscience.

            Nor age of consent.

            Roads cannot declare themselves independant from their "creator(s)" at age of consent.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 05, 2014 09:44

"constitutionally mandated" does not mandate only a not-for-profit organization.  a for-profit organization can be allowed and in the right way, even supported by tax payers who might want to choose a for-profit education company for their child.


"roads don't have rights" -- road-building companies have rights -- as do the owners of those companies.  educational companies have rights -- as do the owners of those companies.  road-builders and educators both have jobs to perform that are essential for the State to be performing their duty.


"Teachers do not bid on their jobs." - exactly the point.  If there are choices in education, teachers CAN bid on their jobs and choose an employer that provides them the most benefit.  Conversely, if road-building becomes a State function, road-builders would cease to bid on jobs and it will cost whatever the state-run agency says.


"If a road fails you can destroy it and start over." -- If a teacher fails, how does that work?  Explain that in the context of how people graduate high school that cannot read beyond a 5th grade level.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 05, 2014 10:08

Another thing I wonder... There are 661 teachers in Haywood County.  I imagine there are significantly fewer private teacher jobs in Haywood County.  If a teacher were in poor standing with Haywood County, would that mean the teacher is more-or-less blacklisted from teaching jobs in the County and even State?  I mean is it connected enough that a school's HR system is somehow tied to multiple school HR systems?  Or if some principal just didn't like a teacher, could that principal influence the teacher's ability to get teaching jobs elsewhere?


The prevailing opinion from public school teachers is not to have school choice.  (I think, please correct me if I'm wrong.)  Wouldn't having more choice of employers (more private schools) be a good thing for teachers?


Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 06, 2014 12:16


       Roads don't have a "conscience". We the people are not obligated to equally protect a roads Naturally inherent or otherwise inalienable rights.

       Taxpayers are obligated to pay taxes in support of the public school system. Anyone choosing to send their child to a private school must do so at their expense. Taxes go into the general till. They don't follow the child. Nor should they.

         Public schools must abide by OUR shared constitutions. Private and or for profit schools by and large do not. Vouchers are an attempt to undermine public schools by syphoning public tax-dollars off and taking the more talented while leaving those with behavior problems.

          If the "charter" schools had to abide by the same rules and regulations as OUR public schools, there would be little problems. As the legislation providing for "charter" schools shows, "charter" schools will be free from most regulation going so far as having teachers not certified in the field they are teaching. What sense does that make?

         Private schools are free to discriminate.

         Public schools may not.

         Such is the price of equality.




Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 06, 2014 20:54

"and taking the more talented while leaving those with behavior problems" -- You make an interesting point here.  Think through the scenario where education is a free-market.  If the State is to guarantee a basic education, then they would have to provide a basic school.  And those that can't afford any premium would be "stuck" with what might be the worst school -- the "public one".  I can appreciate that point.  It might be a good idea then if we explore a more open education system, funding for "the public school" would be more per student than any private school just to avoid that condition.


I am reminded of the "Separate but Equal" epiphany in the 1950's.  And I appreciate the philosophy behind that theory.  But I think there's a debate here worth having.  Even Mr. Mooneyham recognizes "a legitimate debate about where the balance should be struck" when discussing school choice.  I contend the "for profit" and "not for profit" tax status is misleading and should not guide the discussion.  If there is "school choice" and a "for profit" school does not perform well, it simply won't exist for very long.  Anyone wanting to make a profit in education would either charge inflated tuitions or attract lots of students for an economy of scale.


If you think an education system is some kind of pristine organization just because it carries a "not for profit" label... just look at any public university.  Tour the campus and see how much building is going on.  See how lavish the gym, dorms, and dining rooms are.  Is it REALLY education they are selling?  Or is education just a perk -- kind of like the swimming pool that comes with the campus housing?  Where do they get the kind of money to create that lavish lifestyle?  It's the "profits" having to be spent so that their tax exempt status isn't compromised.

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