Inexperienced companies chase U.S. school funds


With the Obama administration pouring billions of dollars into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money, reports the New York Times. A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or the authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school-turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors. Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Jennings said. The Obama administration has sharply increased federal financing for school turnarounds, to $3.5 billion this year, about 28 times as much as in 2007. Under federal rules, school districts can hire companies or nonprofits to help, and experts said a significant percentage—perhaps a majority—were likely to hire at least one outside contractor. Recognizing the risks facing school districts that sign contracts with untested groups, the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit conservative policy group, issued a report last month urging that districts require performance guarantees, under which contractors failing to meet achievement targets would forfeit payments…

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