Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice hosted a forum Sunday to rally opposition to the online curriculum company K12 Inc. and a proposed charter school that could open in the Fox Valley as soon as next year.
The group brought Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyist Sharon Teefey and Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson to the First Congregational Church of Geneva to discuss the failings of K12 Inc., ahead of scheduled public hearings.
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"We want to stop the K12 Wall Street money grab," said NIJWJ co-chairman John Laesch to a group of about 50 people. "That is why we're here today."
Virtual Learning Solutions, a nonprofit run by a five-member board, is petitioning 18 boards of education across the region for a charter to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox Valley. They plan to contract with K12 for curriculum and teaching services. Public hearings on the topic will be held Monday in Burlington School District 301, Plainfield District 202, Indian Prairie District 204 and Elgin Area School District U-46.
Community Unit District 300 will hold its hearing Tuesday. Details of the hearings are available from individual school districts, many of which had representatives at Sunday's forum.
Laesch opened the two-hour meeting with information about the finances in K12 Inc., citing CEO Ronald Packard's $5 million compensation package in 2011, which is listed in the company's filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. K12 Inc., is a publicly traded, for-profit organization -- a major rallying point for Laesch and other meeting attendees.
Hale Landes, a resident of District 204, which serves parts of Aurora, Naperville, Bolingbrook and Plainfield, said he feels strongly that profit motives have no place in public education.
"A for-profit corporation has a duty to enhance shareholder value, to increase its stock price and to increase profits," Landes said. "It does not have a duty to educate our young children."
When students choose charter schools over their other public school options, state and local education dollars go to the charter operator instead of the original school.
It is Illinois law that only nonprofit organizations can apply for a charter school. Virtual Learning Solutions is the nonprofit, but Jobs with Justice organizers named K12 as the controlling organization, a point K12 representative Randall Greenway denied.
The argument Sunday was that K12 doesn't deserve the profits it would see from public dollars. Johnson highlighted academic statistics from Tennessee showing lower reading and math test scores for K12 students compared to their public school peers.
Johnson said she is not opposed to online learning, but she is opposed to the way K12 operates.
"We can't have a system where so many students in such great numbers are allowed to fail," Johnson said.
More than halfway through the meeting, Greenway stood up in the audience to say people were hearing only one side of the story. Peyton Boyle, 17, a student at Chicago Virtual Charter School, also stood up in support of K12's education design.
Greenway said his children went through the K12 program and vouched for the "incredible curriculum," encouraging people to attend the public hearings and get more information about K12 in a more objective format.