Idaho bill on education company oversight dies
BOISE, Idaho (WTW) — Legislation aimed at bringing more oversight to private education companies receiving Idaho tax dollars failed Wednesday amid concerns it was too broad and that adequate transparency measures were already in place.
The measure from Boise Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin would have required any educational management organization, or EMO, working with Idaho students and receiving public education funding from the state to file a yearly report detailing their expenditures of state tax dollars.
The state Department of Education would then have to publish a list of the EMOs operating in Idaho along with the annual reports, which would include other details about the companies, such how their products and employees meet state standards and what percentage actually live in Idaho.
Cronin pushed the measure a year after lawmakers approved education reforms that require every high school student to take online classes. Idaho plans to provide schools with a list of online course providers approved and contracted by the state, while phasing in laptops for teachers and students.
But Republicans on the House Education Committee killed the bill amid concerns it was too far-reaching and would have unintended consequences, such as requiring districts to collect information from textbook manufacturers, which are selected at the local level, not by the state.
"I think it seems to me that this is overkill," said Rep. Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls.
Cronin cited concerns raised by opponents of the education reforms who say they will shift state taxpayer money to for-profit, out-of-state companies tapped to provide online curriculum and laptops for students. Cronin's legislation included for-profit and not-for-profit companies.
Several supporters of the transparency measure took shots at K12 Inc., a company hired to provide curriculum for Idaho's largest online charter school. The criticisms prompted a rebuke by Committee Chairman Bob Nonini, a Coeur d'Alene Republican who urged supporters to speak directly about the bill.
"It seems to be picking on K12 here," Nonini said.
The Virginia-based company has been targeted in a lawsuit that alleges officials made false and misleading statements regarding the company's business and financial results in order to inflate K12's stock price. K12 disputes the claims. Idaho education officials have said the lawsuit is not related to any schools in the state.
In support of his legislation, Cronin argued that Idaho was already requiring more transparency from public schools that account for roughly half of state spending. The House panel has previously approved bills requiring districts to post their checkbooks online and teachers to negotiate their pay and benefits in open.
"Why would we not have the same expectation when it comes to online education management organizations," Cronin said.
He was grilled for nearly an hour about his legislation, which included any company receiving state money to provide face-to-face or web-based education sessions, course curriculum, teaching or staff management services.
Republican Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, of Eagle, noted that "curriculum" materials provided by companies could include everything from interactive touchpads used in the classroom, to sheet music for band students and clay molded in art classes.
"I'm concerned that we're going to require every organization that works with our schools to comply with that, and is that realistic," DeMordaunt said.
While Cronin offered to alter his bill to alleviate those concerns, a motion to advance the legislation failed on a party-line vote.