by David Safier
Lately I've been focusing most of my education-related efforts on Imagine Schools and their many problems (Here's Part 11 of my series of recent posts). But I've kept close tabs on K12 Inc., the publicly traded, for-profit online charter school corporation. Their local charter, Arizona Virtual Academy, is currently on academic probation with the state.
The K12 Inc. school that's making headlines right now is Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania. Dorothy June Hairston Brown, who helped create Agora Cyber in 2005, is under indictment for defrauding a number of charter schools, including Agora, for a total of $6.5 million. Those are state funds, by the way. Basically, the indictment maintains she charged management fees for doing nothing. Here's the U.S. District Court indictment.
My favorite quote about the indictment is from FBI Special Agent George C. Venizelos, who said, "The bottom line is running a charter school does not give you a license to steal." Wise words. Unfortunately, the history of charter schools is littered with people who considered state charter funds to be their personal check books, sometimes using perfectly legal schemes, other times slipping under the regulation radar, which is pretty easy since there isn't much of it. Undoubtedly, many charter school operators are still at it.
Brown hasn't been connected with Agora Cyber or K12 Inc. since about 2009 when this story first broke. Somehow, she managed to get $3 million -- $1.7 million from the state and the rest from K12 Inc. -- to sever all ties with Agora Cyber. It looked like she made out like a bandit -- literally -- until this recent indictment.
The indictment is only one of a long string of problems related to Agora Cyber School. Earlier this year, K12 Inc. was sued by its shareholders over statements it made about the school's academic achievement. The CEO said during a conference call that Agora Cyber test results were “significantly higher than a typical school on state administered tests for growth.” It was a lie. The school's test scores were low and getting lower.
More recently, I've been hearing wisps and whispers from people who know more than I do that Agora Cyber makes a concerted effort to pass students who haven't done their work adequately or on time, and they use legal but questionable techniques to boost their AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). As is true at other K12 Inc. schools, the money flowing in from the state and the value of their corporate stock is more important than the quality of their education. Yet even with the corporation's emphasis on the bottom line rather than education (or maybe because of it), its stock prices continue to slip. In June, the stock was worth about $25. Last time I posted about it a week ago, it was just below $20. It took a big hit this morning. Right now it's trading at about $17.40.
Anyone who has information about Agora Cyber School or K12 Inc. you think is relevant and you wish to add, feel free to either leave a comment at the end of this post or email me at email@example.com. I keep all email correspondence confidential.