Set aside the question of whether for-profit online schools, a burgeoning industry, are effective. Even if they are (and signs point to "no"), they're still a monumental, profit-driven scam. In Virginia, for instance, a "virtual school" run by K12 Inc. is located in rural Carroll County, and any student is counted as being in Carroll County. But:
State aid varies by school district and follows a formula based on poverty, among other factors. Affluent Fairfax County receives $2,716 per pupil from Richmond, whereas relatively poor Carroll County receives $5,421, according to the state Education Department.
This year, 66 Fairfax students are enrolled in the virtual school. Richmond is paying the virtual school twice as much for those students as it would if they attended neighborhood schools in their own county.
And of course, the teachers at the virtual school are paid less than classroom-based teachers, while K12 isn't paying for the maintenance of a physical school building.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who "has received $55,000 in campaign contributions from K12 or its executives since 2009," has blocked efforts to change this to a system in which students are subsidized based on where they live. As a result of deals like this, K12 is making bank:
In the past fiscal year, K12 had revenue of $522 million — a 36 percent increase from the prior year, according to securities filings. Its net income after a series of acquisitions was $12.8 million. [CEO and founder Ronald] Packard earned $2.6 million in total compensation.
And even if your school district escapes sending money to K12 so that it can continue expanding and Packard can keep making millions of dollars a year, that doesn't mean your kids aren't touched by the expanding role of for-profit companies in public education. Take teacher certification. The New York Times reports that for-profit online teacher certification programs taking as little as three months to complete are "booming despite little more than anecdotal evidence of their success." In Texas, alternative certification programs, including the for-profit online ones, now certify 40 percent of new teachers in Texas, and:
For-profit programs dominate that market: in each year since 2007, the two largest companies, A+ Texas Teachers and iteachTexas, have produced far more teachers than any other traditional or alternative program. While virtually all paths to the classroom have seen declines since 2003, according to Mr. Fuller’s analysis, for-profit alternative certification programs have grown by 23 percent. (While the percentage has increased, the actual number of for-profit alternative certificates granted has decreased since the 2009 economic recession.)
There's a lot of money out there pushing school privatization for largely ideological reasons. But there are also just a lot of companies looking to make a profit in the public education system, to see that they get part of any dollar spent to educate kids in this country. If they can get the whole system privatized, they'd be thrilled. But meanwhile they're content to keep whacking off little chunks of a public good and turning it to their own profit.