The state of California has announced a $168.5 million settlement to resolve allegations over false advertising from a for-profit online charter school, or “virtual academy,” operated by K12, Inc.
The settlement with K12 was announced by California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office.
As reported by consumerist.com, the settlement has been the culmination of an investigation that claims it has uncovered the use of deceptive advertising aimed at misleading parents about students’ academic progress. There were claims of misinformation regarding reports on parent satisfaction, the eligibility of the school’s graduates for University of California and California State University admission, class sizes, the individualized and flexible nature of their instruction, hidden costs and the quality of the materials provided to students.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris expanded on the nature of the allegations by saying that:
“All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education. K12 and its schools misled parents and the state of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt.”
The Attorney General rounded up her statement by noting that K12 has cooperated with the state’s inquiry:
“This settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements”.
In a recent interview, K-12 Chief Executive Stuart Udell has denied any wrongdoing and has highlighted that there is no factual basis for allegations that the company has done anything inappropriate. “We have always completely followed the law,” Udell said.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, online charter schools are operated outside the direct authority of local school districts and not all state education laws apply to them. Their revenue is derived mainly from enrollment and attendance and they don’t have to contend with the considerable expenses of brick and mortar campuses.
The initial complaint against K12 stated that:
“… CAVA students are frequently credited with attendance despite providing no evidence that they spent any time … on schoolwork on particular days”.
Allegations include that teachers were pressured to record a full day of attendance for 30 minutes of work or to sign fabricated attendance registers. A former virtual academy teacher and whistleblower, Susie Kaplar, claims that her teaching contract was not renewed after she refused to sign doctored records.
While Udell vehemently refutes these accusations by saying that, “opponents of K12 and skeptics of public online education have spent years making wild, attention-grabbing charges about us and our business,” the California Charter Schools Association released a strongly worded statement saying:
“CCSA condemns the predatory and dishonest practices employed by K12 Inc. to dupe parents [by] using misleading marketing schemes, siphon taxpayer dollars with inflated student attendance data, and coerce CAVA School nonprofit employees into dubious contracting arrangements”.
As reported by scpr.org, more than 130,00 students attend California Virtual Academies. While different school districts across the state hold the charters for each individual Virtual Academy, each of these entities is provided curriculum and is administered by K12.
Although K12’s Udell has denied any wrongdoing by the company, several changes are being made by the California Virtual Academy (CAVA) schools as a result of the settlement. These include the hiring of a third-party expert to review and recommend changes to the schools’ education policies, corrections on claims of various CAVA school websites, and to “ensure an arms-length relationship between the not-for-profit CAVA schools and the for-profit education management company”.