A little over a week ago I blogged about the bills in the Missouri legislature to institute state virtual schools. At the time I hadn’t heard about the efforts to make virtuals happen here in the Show Me State. There was nothing in the Kansas City Star about it, nor my local paper. I’d have thought I’d see something locally since my representative was the one who introduced the House version of the bill, but it seems that I wasn’t the only one in the dark as nobody was showing anyone anything.
- Fulton Sun, Fulton, Missouri, 12 February 2006, Students may soon get chance to attend public school without leaving their roomsBacked by the Missouri School Boards’ Association, Moore said there is little visible opposition at the moment. However, local superintendents and the Missouri Council of School Administrators say the bill is too vague and want to know more before voicing their support.
They’ll have to hurry up because the bill had a hearing in the Missouri House on Valentine’s Day, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate tomorrow, Tuesday the 21st. How did I find that out? On a list. A Yahoo list. A Yahoo list owned by Carrie Jean Ross, a former K-12 vendor, a petitioner at the Idaho Charter School Commission meeting in April of 2005 (see page 2, INSPIRE Virtual Charter School), and a national staffer at Connections Academy (see page 2, Showcasing Virtual School Best Practices).
On that Missouri list I found out no end of interesting things.
- the list was started in November of 2005 and “several people are working hard” to implement virtual schools in Missouri
- most people coming to the elist didn’t know how anyone knew to contact them
- the list-owner (Ms. Ross) is from Idaho
- Connections Academy “shared” with Ms. Ross the names of people in Missouri who’d contacted the company for information
- the funding for enrollment in Connections Academy as a state virtual school will come from state taxes
- Ms. Ross-in-Idaho is familiar with my Missouri state representative, and knows the town he lives in (mine)
- Ms. Ross is willing to call people on her “nickel”
- parents using the state-funded version of Connections Academy don’t have to teach anything to which they conscientiously object, such as evolution
- how the list-members need to make Missouri legislature aware of how much parents “want (NEED)” virtual schooling
- a former Missouri state senator joined the list and was introduced by another listmember who seems to be a vice president of Connections Academy, although she was never identified as such on the list. At the link, see the “Dear Parents” letter on the front page of the Connections PDF document. I’m assuming that the name “mrevenaugh” on the Missouri list isn’t a common one.
- lots of ‘how to’ communicate with your legislators
- a request for letters from list-members to be faxed or emailed to Ms. Ross in Idaho to present to my state representative in Missouri
- how Ms. Ross came to Missouri to attend legislative hearings in person
- and how a list-member appreciates that Connections provided the hotel room and meals for her family during their stay in Missouri’s capital
Now in talking online with homeschooling colleagues around the country to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for a lot of the research, I found out that Ms. Ross has also been active in the recent virtual school legislation in Mississippi, that “mrevenaugh” also posted to the Mississippi virtual school list, as did a Barb Smith. Barb also posts in Missouri, as well as on the PEAK list in Mississippi. Maybe they all just like ‘M-states?’ Nah, that can’t be it. Intrigued, I ‘looked around.’ Were there other lists with splashpages resembling those of the Missouri and Mississippi groups? Yes, there were.
- Oregon: ORCA_Families
- Idaho: INSPIRE_Connections
- Virtual_School Support Center
- Indiana: INCA Families
- VS Middle Schoolers
- Washington state: WACA Connections
- Washington, DC: DC Connections Academy
- Washington, DC: DC Cyber Community
- We want free on-line home schooling!
Is Ms. Ross the list-owner for any of these lists? That’s hard to tell because most of them do not have public archives, and only Yahoo knows for sure. Still, Ms. Ross did post to the Idaho list, and she’s the list-owner of the Oregon list. On the Oregon list she’s politically active: URGENT…NEED IMMEDIATE ACTION IN OREGON FOR ORCA, and SB 1071.
So now we have three lists owned by Ms. Ross, and another (Idaho) that looks similiar. Nowhere does she say that she’s employed by Connections Academy, and on the Oregon list she says she’s not “an activist” (see: SB 1071 above). On both lists she advocated political action by state residents, without disclosing onlist that she has a vested interest in the outcome of the legislation. On the Missouri list she said she actually came from Idaho to Missouri to participate in the Valentine’s Day hearings. She’s coming again tomorrow. A pizza party is planned.
Ms. Ross took pains on the Missouri list to separate the “need” for the legislation from homeschooling. She emphasized that the virtual schooling would be public schooling. But is that just stepping around the reality that the virtual foot-in-the-door is homeschooling’s foot? What do the “keywords” on the lists’ splashpages say?
- Missouri: home education, homeschool, homeschooling, home school, home schooling, student, home teaching, Calvert, Compass, Plato, curriculum, homeschool curriculum, home school curriculum
- Mississippi: home education, homeschool, homeschooling, home school, home schooling, student, home teaching, Calvert, Compass, curriculum, homeschool curriculum, home school curriculum
- Oregon: home education, homeschool, homeschooling, home school, home schooling, student, home teaching, Calvert, Compass, Plato, curriculum, homeschool curriculum, home school curriculum
Yes, there are other keywords on the splashpages, but, if homeschoolers were not being targeted as political shills, why those near-identical keywords? Have these people made the same information about the need for public virtual schools available to public school parents in Missouri? Or in Mississippi? Or in Oregon? How about to parents of children in private schools? Surely, parents with children in private schools might be interested in saving a little cash, and getting a return on their tax dollars, too. But this interest in establishing virtual schools doesn’t seem to be about providing services to families. It’s not about education. It’s about the bottom line.
- Scholastic Administrator, March 2003, Special Report: E-Learning Reality CheckMickey Revenaugh (mrevenaugh@…) is vice president of Connections Academy, Inc., a Sylvan Ventures portfolio company.
- Forbes.com, New York, New York, 14 April 2004, MOODY’S ASSIGNS B1 TO EDUCATE OPERATING COMPANY, LLC’S NEW $190 MILLION SR SECURED CREDIT FACILITY; OUTLOOK STABLEHowever, after excluding the unrestricted subsidiaries (E-Sylvan and Connections Academy), revenues would have been $241 million and EBITDA would have been $43 million for 2003. The company’s annual lease expense totaled around $15 million in the aggregate but these leases have staggered maturities. The industry is comprised of various other providers including independent contractors (retired teachers) that have the ability to compete on price as these individuals have lower overhead. … The company offers its teachers part time work that allows for greater flexibility in their schedules along with reasonable compensation. Unlike some of its competitors, its teaching staff and franchise owners are typically professional educators. The company’s leases are typically in second tier locations where rent increases are less likely to escalate when the leases mature. The stable outlook reflects the company’s high revenue stability, entrenched business position, and the expectations that the proposed transaction will help the company. … The ratings and or outlook may improve if the company successfully increases its coverage ratios on a sustainable basis while continuing to show stable revenues and improving cash flows. The company plans to step-up in its franchise acquisitions for 2004. The ratings and or outlook could deteriorate if the company was to experience margin pressure due to its business mix, pricing, acquisition strategy, or cost structure (teachers’ wages). [emphases added]
- Connections Academy, 30 September 2004, CONNECTIONS ACADEMY CLOSES NEW FINANCING ROUNDBaltimore, MD, September 30, 2004 – Connections Academy®, Inc., a leading national provider of high-quality, highly accountable K-8 virtual public schools, has announced that on September 20, 2004, it closed on a $7M financing round, led by Apollo Management, LP. Apollo and other investors also purchased the Company from Educate, Inc., which completed its initial public offering on September 23, 2004.
Connections Academy was founded in October, 2001 and was originally part of the Sylvan Ventures organization. The Company was then sold to Educate on June 30, 2003 in connection with its purchase of other K-12 education businesses from Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc. (now Laureate, Inc.). Since its inception, Connections Academy has experienced rapid growth, and expects to serve more than 3,000 students this school year in the rapidly growing market for virtual school services. Barbara Dreyer, President of Connections Academy, commented, “We are very excited about receiving a direct investment from Apollo Management and are looking forward to benefiting from their substantial expertise in the education marketplace.” [emphases added]
- Washington Post, Washington, DC, 27 September 2004, RECENT DEALSEducate Inc., a Baltimore provider of educational services, sold 15 million shares of common stock in an initial public offering at a $11 per share. Educate sold 5 million shares, and its existing stockholders, led by the private equity firm Apollo Management, sold 10 million shares. Apollo, which owned 34.3 million shares, or 91 of the company , sold 9.55 million for net proceeds of $97.7 million. Apollo bought Educate in leveraged buyout several years ago and had invested $125 million in Educate. Citigroup Inc. affiliate SSB Capital Partners (Master Fund) I LP sold 500,000 of its 1.6 million shares. The selling stockholders have granted the underwriters, led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co., an option to purchase up to 2.25 million more shares to cover over-allotments. Educate will use the money to repay debt. [emphases added]
- Lobbying expenses by Connections Academy in MinnesotaAssociation Name: Connection Academy
Lobbying Expenditures in 2004: 10000
Lobbying Expenditures in 2003: 20000
- Connections Academy lobbyists in Ohio — five of them
- Connections Academy lobbyists in Missouri — only three Connections lobbyists; one name is recognizable on PDF-page 172:Revenaugh, Mickey: Connections Academy LLC
Now of course, all businesses are in the business of making money. That’s business. But how many ordinary citizens want to be used by a business to lobby their own elected representatives in order for the money they pay in state taxes to leave the state and be paid to a multi-million dollar business? Virtual schooling isn’t free, we pay for it through our taxes, and taxes paid to Connections Academy will leave Missouri, Mississippi and Oregon for Baltimore.
And that explains what one list-member on the Missouri Cyber Support list found so amazing, that an Idahoan would be so generous as to do all this work for Missourians. Gives ya a major case of the warm fuzzies just thinking about the self-sacrifice, don’t it.
Doing business like that is just tacky.