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Exposing Corporate Influence on Education Policy

ITPI for-profit education project leads to Polk Award for investigative journalism

Last month Colin Woodward of the Maine Sunday Telegram was awarded the prestigious 2012 George Polk Award for Education Reporting for his special report on the profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine.

Woodward’s report relied on emails obtained and released by In the Public Interest‘s investigation into former Governor Jeb Bush’s efforts to privatize public education. The emails describe a project similar to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) pay-for-play operation. Corporate donors rub shoulders with state education policy makers while FEE moves the corporate-friendly policy agenda.

Woodward exposed the influence of out-of-state for-profit online education companies on Maine’s education policy. He highlights the alliance between the corporate-funded Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and the state’s education officials. He described how Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen proposed FEE written legislation and executive orders that would expand opportunity for foundation donors, including the two largest digital education providers K12 Inc. and Connections Education. K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine.

ITPI has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to public officials in eleven states including Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island finding similar efforts to expand for-profit education. 

In response to our release of these emails, many local and national media news outlets have covered the issue. The Washington Post‘s coverage includes three articles. Further coverage includes Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. You can find more coverage here.

Viewpoint: Keeping Education Accountable

The public education system sustains American democracy. It is one of the most distinct examples of how we come together as a society to encourage diversity, promote social progress and new ideas, and create productive members of our communities. It is based on our fundamental values to be accountable to all Americans and create opportunity for all of our children, regardless of race or religion and without limitations based on family status or economic situation…continue reading