Virtual Academy Forgoes Grant
Project once tied to Bennett now relies on money from Arkansas.
When the Department of Education announced grant recipients last month under its public-school-choice program, the list of 14 had one noticeable omission: an Arkansas online project run by a company co-founded by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.
The Arkansas project decided not to reapply for any of the program’s $25 million in grants because it now has a steady funding stream as a statewide charter school, said Jeffrey Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12, the Herndon, Va.-based private company that manages what has become the Arkansas Virtual Academy.
The Education Department’s grant in 2002 to start the school drew scrutiny because federal officials chose the Arkansas project over others that scored higher in peer reviewers’ evaluations.
At the time, a department spokeswoman said officials used their discretion to overrule those evaluations. Former Education Department officials said high-level officials in previous administrations rarely took such actions.
In 2004, one department employee, requesting anonymity, told Education Week: “Anything with Bill Bennett’s name on it was going to get funded.” ("Federal Grant Involving Bennett’s K12 Inc. Questioned," July 28, 2004.)
Mr. Bennett, who was secretary of education during President Reagan’s second term and remains active in Republican circles, resigned from K12 in October 2005 amid controversy over racially charged remarks he made about abortion and crime on his radio program.
The federal grant under the Voluntary Public School Choice program helped establish the Arkansas Virtual Academy.
Although the federal grant technically went to the Arkansas education department, most of the money flowed to K12 to provide computers, online teachers, and other materials to students. Today, 500 students are enrolled in the schools, which receives almost $5,700 per student in state funding as a statewide charter school, said Karen Ghidotti, the head of the school. The school contracts with K12 for curriculum, instructors, and other services.
With that funding intact, the school did not need the federal grant to finance its operations, Mr. Kwitowski wrote in an e-mail.
The Arkansas project fulfilled the purpose of the federal grant program because it created new opportunities for students who might otherwise have been in low-performing schools, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department.
Vol. 26, Issue 45, Page 23