In an editorial on Monday, The Wall Street Journal characterized the California Attorney General’s now-concluded investigation into K12 Inc. and the 11 California Virtual Academies (CAVA) as a coordinated ambush targeting K12 and the online charters schools after they dared to resist the California Teachers Association’s (CTA) unionization campaign. (Read the entire WSJ editorial here.)
In 2014, the CTA launched its unionization campaign of the CAVA schools. Over the next 2+ years the teachers union spared no expense, marshalled all of its political allies, spun the media, and hurled dozens of allegations against K12 and CAVA schools no matter how unfounded. The union fired every arrow in its quiver.
In early 2015, the CTA recruited several state legislators, all recipients of the union’s massive political campaign war chest, to pressure the CAVA schools to bow to the union’s demands. When that failed, the union crafted a bill aimed at shutting down the CAVA schools and other charters that contract with private providers. The CTA was successful lobbying it through the Legislature, but Governor Brown vetoed it in September 2015. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Harris launched her investigation into so-called “for profit virtual schools” (public virtual schools in California are nonprofits).
Organizations tied to the CTA joined the offensive. They leveled the same charges as the union, relying almost exclusively on accounts from a handful of teachers who were (shocking!) organizing for CTA – claims that were often contradicted by hard evidence and by the testimonies of other CAVA teachers.
Certain media outlets jumped in as well. The San Jose Mercury News charged that K12 and the CAVA schools were violating state attendance laws to “boost profits,” yet failed to ever inform readers of California’s Independent Study law under which online charter schools are required to operate. Further, the paper ignored written school policies, audits, and other documentation showing CAVA schools actually followed the law and CA Department of Education’s Independent Study guidelines. Just one of several inaccurate and one-sided reports.
In December 2015, in the middle of proceedings with the California Public Employment Relations Board, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson sent a letter to CAVA urging the schools to abandon their appeal and immediately acquiesce to the CTA’s demands. (Does the State Superintendent intervene on behalf of the union during labor disputes with school districts?) Months later, Superintendent Torlakson directed the State Controller’s office to undertake a separate audit of the CAVA schools, despite the fact that the CAVA schools had a 10-year track record of clean audits conducted by auditors approved by the CA Department of Education.
The Wall Street Journal called all of this a “mugging” and likened it to the coordinated assault on for-profit colleges. The outcomes, however, were very different. The investigation of K12 and the CAVA schools ended with no findings of fact or law, wrongdoing, misconduct or illegal acts, and no penalties or fines. The claims repeatedly made by the union, and circulated across various media reports, were thoroughly and exhaustively investigated by the AG with full cooperation from K12 and the CAVA schools. All were resolved with no issuance of wrongdoing. CAVA schools continue to serve families across the state.
Now, this is not to say that K12 and the CAVA schools are perfect. The academic challenges facing many online schools, including at CAVA, are acknowledged and taken very seriously. K12 is making significant investments in new academic programs aimed at improving outcomes, and there is real progress. If errors are made, they are addressed and corrected. K12 is a company with hundreds of committed educators who care deeply about serving kids.
It is telling that after the settlement was reached the AG’s Office issued a verifiably untrue press release that grossly mischaracterized the value and terms of the settlement. The release wrongly claimed K12 would be required to provide $160 million in “debt relief” to the CAVA schools. The problem? The schools have no debt. K12 never “saddled” its school partners with debt. In fact, the word “debt” doesn’t even appear in the Final Judgment. The AG’s Office made it up. Apparently the political value of claiming to have secured “debt relief” payments from a for-profit education provider was too attractive not to include, regardless of its veracity.
The AG’s investigation is over, but the attacks continue. A new bill (AB 1084) is making its way through the legislature aimed at shutting down the CAVA schools and other similar charter schools, putting at risk nearly 20,000 students whose parents have chosen these school options for their children.
AB 1084 is also supported by the CTA. Ironically, if the CTA gets its way and the bill becomes law, it would likely eliminate the jobs of the very teachers the union says it wants to represent.
I’d call that a mugging, too.
Jeff Kwitowski is the senior vice president of Public Affairs & Policy Communications.