President of online school found guilty of defrauding students

The president of a Kansas-based online university has been found guilty of defrauding more than 200 students nationwide, after he failed to appear at a hearing and respond to charges against him.

Johnson County District Judge Larry McClain found Leslie Edwin Snell guilty of violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act for offering degrees from his online correspondence school, Monticello University, without state approval.

Snell had repeatedly failed to respond to court orders to provide information to the state in the case.

McClain ordered Snell to pay a $1.5 million civil fine and to reimburse his students. So far, 15 students have filed claims totaling $53,000. Court documents show Monticello may have taken in more than $900,000 from students since 1997.

Schmidt said the court seized about $160,000 in assets from Snell after the lawsuit was filed. Students will be reimbursed before the civil fine is paid, he said.

“We’ll now do our best to find all the consumers we can find who have been damaged, so they have a chance to be at the table when the assets are distributed,” Assistant Attorney General Derek Schmidt said after the hearing.

The state alleged the university misled more than 200 students by promising “real” college degrees when the degrees were not recognized by an accrediting agency acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education.

Monticello offered degrees in nine schools, including management, history, and law.

Snell moved to Dallas last summer, but the telephone number he provided to the court in December was not working.

Snell has said the state’s case against him lacked merit, because Monticello never operated in Kansas. He also called the charges “fabrications” and said the seizure of his assets made it impossible for him to afford a lawyer, violating his civil rights.

New York schools propose swapping ad space for computers

A task force of New York City school officials and computer executives has proposed that the nation’s largest public school system swap advertising space on a school web site in exchange for low-cost computers.

The proposal offers a means of financing new technology for New York City public schools that could not be paid for with tax dollars, board members said.

“This is a major shift in the ways we think about teaching and learning and how we fund these activities,” said Irving S. Hamer, a board member who oversees the task force.

Offering advertising to corporate partners is the only way to get their assistance in building and maintaining the system, said William C. Thompson Jr., president of the Board of Education.

Under the proposal, laptops would be distributed each year to all 85,000 fourth-graders at reduced cost. After nine years, all students in grades four through 12 would use their own computers. Students would be able to click on commercial logos on the school web site to buy products, with a portion of each sale going to the board.

Through the web site, students could receive homework assignments and teachers could communicate with parents and school administrators.

Critics say the board is headed toward becoming a revenue-generating, advertising-driven entity. But Hamer said the commercial aspects of the system would be strictly separated from material for classroom use.

Arizona board approves statewide computer purchase

The board overseeing Arizona school facilities voted to soon equip schools with one computer for every eight students, nearly triple the number they currently have.

The School Facilities Board agreed April 6 to dedicate up to $50 million to get the technology into the classroom sooner than had been expected.

“This is a big deal,” said Steve Rich, president of the board, which doles out money to repair, maintain, and build schools and provide them with needed equipment. “It’s a huge change, not only because of the ratio, but because the state is providing the technology.”

As part of the state’s plan, 50,000 multimedia and networked computers will be purchased by October and delivered to public schools early next year. Preloaded software and speedy repair service will be available, because the computers will be bought in bulk under a state contract.

The board voted to push ahead with the computer purchases even though officials have said the state will miss the deadline for determining how much money is needed to bring school facilities up to standard.

The board is doing an assessment of school facilities and equipment as part of a new state program that will take over the building and maintenance of schools. Such work had previously been funded by property taxes in individual districts, which courts found created unconstitutional disparities between rich and poor districts.

Maryland will be first state to implement UCITA

The Maryland General Assembly passed a massive piece of legislation on the final day of the 2000 legislative session, designed to govern the future of electronic commerce.

The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, known as UCITA, won approval from both houses April 10 and was signed into law by Gov. Parris Glendening two weeks later. Though Virginia passed its own version of UCITA in March, Maryland will become the first state to implement the law, on Oct. 1.

UCITA is envisioned as the rulebook for electronic commerce in the internet age. It needs approval by all 50 states to become, as it supporters hope, the uniform legal framework for all electronic transactions.

Lawmakers said Maryland’s version of UCITA offers strong protections for consumers. For example, in response to lawmakers’ concerns, it limits the ability of companies to reach out over the internet and disable software purchased by a consumer or small business—a practice known as “self-help”—to cases in which there is a clear breech of contract.

In the House, critics of the bill feared it would hurt libraries by limiting their abilities to loan software. But supporters say that allowing libraries to lend software would mean that patrons easily could take computer programs home and make and distribute free copies.

“In choosing between library systems and software vendors, I’m going to err on the side of software vendors,” said Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore.

Maine legislators reject laptop proposal

The Education Committee of Maine’s Legislature has soundly rejected Gov. Angus King’s plan to create a state-funded endowment that would buy laptop computers for every seventh-grader in the state.

The proposal, which had been modified several times since King first floated it, would have used $50 million in state funds and $15 million in federal and private funds to create an endowment. The interest on that endowment would be used to buy enough laptops for each seventh-grader, though the computers would be the property of the schools, not the students, and students would check them out much as they check out books from the school library.

Bowing to legislators’ overwhelming rejection of his innovative plan, King said after the vote that he might be willing to open up the program to children in private schools and home-schooled children, too.

While legislators voted against the plan 11-1 (with one legislator absent), several “no” voters said they endorse increasing support of technology in schools. They said they’d support a scaled-down purchase program that redirected some money toward fixing school buildings that need major repairs. According to one independent estimate, 85 percent of Maine’s schools are in “substandard” condition.

The proposal does not have the support of the Maine Education Association or the Maine School Management Association, which are the major lobbyists on education issues affecting the public schools.

But it has been endorsed by the Maine Association of School Libraries, the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine, and the National Center for Student Aspirations.

New Hampshire to post school data reports on web

New Hampshire parents who want to know more about their children’s schools—from attendance to college acceptance rates—soon won’t have to go any further than the internet.

Under a law passed two years ago, the state Department of Education must create an easy-to-understand reporting system to give New Hampshire residents important information about the state’s schools.

The data will be available on the department’s web site in December.

“This is a vehicle for people to see and understand district and school performance based on what we think is a good variety of information,” Deputy Education Commissioner Nick Donohue said. “This will be a very powerful piece of information people haven’t had before.”