Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S2)
EDUCATION WEEK APRIL 24, 2013
Industry & Innovation > www.edweek.org/go/i&ireport
Education Industry Players
Exert Public-Policy Influence
what they see
MICHELLE R. DAVIS
he online education provider K12 Inc.—a
publicly traded company with $708 million
in revenue in 2012—had 39 lobbyists around
the country on the payroll last year to work
for state and local policies that would help expand the use of virtual learning.
Pearson Education—an offshoot of the publishing giant Pearson—has spent more than
$6 million over the past decade lobbying at
the federal level.
And the charter school operator White Hat Management and its
employees contributed more than $2 million in campaign support between 2004 and 2012 to mostly Republican politicians in Ohio, where
the company, which runs 33 schools in three states, is the largest forprofit charter operator and has been under fire for poor performance.
Those examples, and many others, suggest the influence education
companies are trying to exert on policymaking and legislation.
Some education observers are alarmed at what they see as increasingly aggressive moves by companies to make money from the K-12
system; others say the expanding role of for-profit ventures is just
a natural evolution of the interplay between the private and public
sectors in efforts to improve schools.
Gene V. Glass, a senior researcher for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said he is seeing
the fingerprints of education companies on public policy in ways that
“would curl your hair.”
“The corporations just woke up a few years ago to the billions and
billions of dollars that exist in public education, and they just decided to go for it,” he said. “The incredible thing is how easy it is.”
Jeff Kwitowski sees it differently.
A spokesman for K12 Inc., he said the Herndon, Va.-based company hires lobbyists because it doesn’t have the in-house staff necessary to navigate the many state laws affecting virtual education
and to press for changes the company believes will improve online
education. He said the company’s lobbying and advocacy efforts “are
all part of the ongoing discourse on policy related to digital learning
networks, not just about the company and the school partners we
Still, the influence of for-profit companies in education is attracting increasing attention.
One example is a recent investigation by In the Public Interest, a
Washington-based resource center that tracks privatization of public services. It unearthed emails the organization said reveal that
companies worked through the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence
in Education, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based advocacy group, to help get
lawmakers to set new policies and pass education laws friendly to
the companies’ business interests in states such as Florida, Louisiana, Maine, and New Mexico.
The emails between the companies and the foundation, which
was established by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, show the group
promoting online education policies and model bills and making
connections to policymakers for its financial supporters, which include such companies as Amplify, Charter Schools USA, K12 Inc.,
McGraw-Hill Education, Microsoft, and Pearson Education.
For example, In the Public Interest found emails showing that in
Florida, the foundation helped write legislation to increase the use
of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or fcat, a $250 million contract Pearson Education holds.
Pearson Education officials declined to comment for this article.
Various news outlets, including Education Week, have also highlighted the role of the Washington-based American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes private tax-credit scholarships and
virtual education, and which often connects its corporate supporters
to state lawmakers.
Mickey Revenaugh, a co-founder and an executive vice president
of sales and marketing for Baltimore-based Connections Academy,
a division of Connections Education, a virtual education company
now owned by Pearson, was at one time the chairwoman of alec’s
education task force. Connections Education officials declined to
Though these types of activities—lobbying lawmakers, crafting
model legislation, and forming behind-the-scenes connections—are
not new in education or other policy sectors, expanding markets and
increasing revenue have spurred companies to become more savvy,
said Donald Cohen, the chairman of In the Public Interest. And it
appears that businesses are enlisting nonprofit organizations and
foundations as a way to avoid overt lobbying for a share of public
education dollars, he added.
“A big chunk of what they’re doing is opening up market share,”
he said of for-profit companies.
Policymakers, he pointed out, are particularly receptive to initiatives involving education technology, online schooling, and digital
offerings because such efforts are part of an emerging area for education. But precisely because the initiatives are cutting-edge, lawmakers may not have deep knowledge on these topics.
“It’s the allure of new ideas,” Mr. Cohen said. “Elected officials
want to make progress; they want to do things.”
And the market is certainly growing: A report last year by the
National Education Policy Center about for-profit education management companies, which run brick-and-mortar charter schools,
cyber charter schools, or both, found that since 1995-96, their ranks
increased from five to 99, and that the number of schools such companies operate increased from six to 758. (The nepc is financed by
grants from such funders as the National Education Association
and the Ford Foundation.)
A 2012 report from Monroe, Wash.-based Ambient Insight Research predicted the North American e-learning market would grow
to $27.2 billion by 2016, up from $21.9 billion in 2011.
Many companies seeking K-12 business have deep pockets. In addition to spending $6 million in federal lobbying since 2001, Pearson
and its employees donated more than $249,000 to presidential and
congressional candidates, as reported by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal campaign spending.
At the state level, K12 Inc. and its employees donated more than
$1 million to state candidates, political parties, and ballot-measure
committees from 2004 to 2012, according to the National Institute
on Money in State Politics, based in Helena, Mont. That’s separate
from K12’s lobbyist spending, which is not tracked by the institute.
Connections Education had 99 lobbyists on the payroll from 2002
to 2011, according to the institute.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that business interests are lobbying and
donating money to politicians, said Dick Carpenter, an associate
professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado at
“They’re going to want to protect their investment by influencing
the process,” he said. “Public policies create incentives, and companies, like people, respond to incentives.”
New Levels of Involvement
Ronald R. Cowell, the president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, based in Harrisburg, Pa., said there have always been
businesses trying to sway policies in their favor. For years, schools
have contracted out for services such as transportation, test creation, and meals. And school employees’ unions have been trying to
influence elections and legislation for decades.
“There’s nothing new about the idea of private companies’ being
involved in education,” Mr. Cowell said. “What is relatively new is
the degree to which private companies are involved with publicpolicy issues.”
Mr. Cowell has had a close vantage point as that trend unfolds: A
former Pennsylvania state lawmaker, he has seen the number of charter schools and their management companies grow rapidly in the state
ever since a 1997 law opened the marketplace to such schools.
But the road has been rocky, and brick-and-mortar charter schools
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report
Education Week - April 24, 2013
Education Industry Players Exert Public- Policy Influence
Companies, Policymakers Look For Common Ground
Industry Shapes Goals And Tech Focus at N.Y.C. School
Beta Testing Ed. Products Can Get Tricky for Schools
Vetting Product Research to Determine What Works
Big-Name Companies Feature Larger-Impact Research Efforts
What to Ask About Research
À la Carte Purchasing Tactics Signal Districts’ Unique Needs
Big Companies Face K-12 Shift
Education Week - April 24, 2013 - Special Report