A company started by right-wing scold Bill Bennett and others to try to steer public money into their already-deep pockets will have to go somewhere other than Wisconsin state taxpayers to make their next dirty buck. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals in the Second District ruled on Tuesday that the too-clever-by-half "virtual" school scheme divised by one of the state’s school districts did not comport with that unfortunate (for them) entity called state law and should not get taxpayer money for its operation. This led radio and other wing-nuts to spin furiously on behalf of throwing more tax money out the window at out-of-state education profiteers.
The damaged Bennett, who holds himself out as an intellectual heavyweight on the right, was one of the founders of K12 Inc., but quit the board in 2005 after saying this stupid, racist thing on his radio show: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Of these thoughts are the purported saviors of our nation’s children made.
Never letting a racist founder get between them and a public dollar, K12 moved forward, joining Wisconsin’s always-creative right-wing foundations to find a way to siphon public funds away from and otherwise try to destroy public schools in the state. Having already succeeded in brow-beating weak legislators into pouring millions of dollars into the pockets of various fly-by-night "educators" in the Milwaukee school "choice" program, the usual cast of characters in the heavily-funded cheesehead right-wing brain-trusts had the bright idea to get a school district to buy K12's virtual snake-oil and sign up a bunch of students from around the state who were going to be home-schooled anyway as "open-enrollment" transfers to pay for it with money from the taxpayers.
The Northern Ozaukee school district was apparently pliant, right-wing and/or stupid enough to go along with the for-profit, tax money-sucking scheme. Following a blueprint designed, no doubt, in the lush suites of the Bradley Foundation and its ancillaries, the North Oz school board declared that it had created the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), as a "charter" school. As of this year, they had signed up over 600 students from all over the state to "attend" the virtual school, instructing them to apply to the Oz schools under the state’s open enrollment program, which allows students living in one school district to attend a school in any other district, as long as the receiving district has space.
In devising its scheme, the district and its outside developers did make some – but, alas, not enough – concessions to the (for them) inconvenient state law that defines charter schools and controls public school funding. WIVA has a couple of administrators were actually physically in the school district, but no school building for teachers and students. It hired a few certified teachers, who live in various places throughout the state, to conduct on-line classes. The typical student is on-line with each of his or her "teachers" for all of 30 minutes, two to four times a month. The certified staff member also gets on the phone with each student once or twice a month for 10 to 20 minutes. The rest of the supervision and instruction is provided by the student’s parent, who is provided with the teacher manuals and is required by a contract with the school to devote at least five hours a day to provide the primary instruction. In other words, WIVA is basically an outrageous attempt to hijack public funding to support home schooling.
The Court of Appeals had no problem seeing through this fairly thin scheme to take over $3 million in public funds to facilitate home-schooling, slapping down K12, the North Oz board and the ludicrous decision rubber-stamping the plan by the trial judge in a fairly short opinion. "We cannot believe that the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory term 'school' excludes both teachers and students," is only one of the fairly obvious conclusions drawn by the court. The court committed the outrageous act of actually reading the statutes relating to charter schools finding at least two ways in which the scheme did not comply with state law: 1) a school in which neither students nor their certified teachers are in the North Oz district is not "in the district" under the statute; 2) since most of the instruction is provided by parents, the parents are therefore uncertified "teachers" under the statute and the scheme fails for lack of certified teaching staff. The decision is an entirely proper interpretation of the statutes and it’s very unlikely the Supreme Court is going to change anything, or even take the case for review.
You could imagine the kind of bleating this entirely-expected decision generated on wing-nut mainstream radio (MSR) on Tuesday and, depending on how much they are able to twist and spin the result into an unrecognizable distortion, will continue for the balance of this week. At least two of the MSR shows featured a spokesperson from WIVA/K12, who whined about the slap-down, with the usual sympathy from the host wing-nut enablers. Mark Belling in particular enjoyed flexing his usual anti-WEAC shtick, squawking about how the teachers only care about money and not about the kids’ education and they are union hacks and blah-di blah blah.
One of the tactics used always used by the wing-nuts is to define the decision as something that it is not. Both the MSR hosts and the company flacks said that the decision means that parents of a regular school student helping with homework is now in violation of the law, which is typically nuts, and the court itself anticipated the misinterpretation: "We underscore that no one is suggesting that a parent assisting his or her child to whatever extent the parent finds necessary is 'illegal.' The question is not whether and how a parent may assist his or her child with schoolwork; rather, it is whether the District can establish a public school, using public funds, that relies upon unlicensed individuals as the primary teachers of the pupils." The spinning hacks also said the decision means a student could not be part of his or her education on-line – again, another red herring, floated for all to smell.
Once again, when the law gets in the way of the right-wing, the rule-of-law crew thinks it’s entirely acceptable to ignore the law. If the legislature decides they want allow school districts to throw money at national companies to support home-schooling, there is nothing preventing it – although Belling admitted such a scheme would never make it through. The school "choice" proponents knew they couldn’t take money from the Milwaukee Public Schools for religious and entrepreneurial "education" through the charter school or open-enrollment law or in any other way other than changing state law to allow for it. Why K12 and North Oz thought they could take this gamble and win is anybody’s guess. Once again, for the right-wing, the law is for suckers.
It makes you wonder what the district’s contract with K12 says about what happens if (when) the scheme is struck down. My guess is that K12 gets paid in any event. Since the state’s not paying, the taxpayers of North Oz are going to be left holding the bag. Since their school board signed off on this nonsense, it serves them right.