GOP Shuts Down Online Schools Audit

UPDATE: FOX 31’s Eli Stokols:

The State’s auditing office gave preliminary approval to the request, but the audit committee had to approve it to let it move forward.

On a 4-4 party-line vote Monday, the audit request failed with all four Republican committee members — state Sens. Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Steve King of Colorado Springs, as well as state Reps. Brian Delgrosso of Loveland and Cindy Acree of Aurora — voting against it…

Republicans called Shaffer’s initial request “political grandstanding”; and, on Tuesday, they tried to amend Shaffer’s request to call for an audit on all state education spending, not just online schools.

That amendment was defeated.

“They wanted to be political in looking at one part of education and not all of it,” Renfroe told FOX31 Denver.

Our understanding is that the proposal was definitely intended to spike the process of investigating deficiencies in online schools. Nonpartisan staff were reportedly blindsided by the GOP’s request to expand this audit to include all schools, and the proposal would have inflated this investigation into a years-long morass, hopelessly off track from the task at hand. Online schools are significantly different than traditional schools, whether public or private, so there’s no rational reason to not investigate them separately.

The incident does little to reassure us that this kind of petty obstruction isn’t going to happen over and over again, every time they think there are points to be scored off Brandon Shaffer.


That news in a press release we just got from the Senate Majority Press Office:

Today, Republican members of the Legislative Audit Committee voted against investigating possible waste, fraud and abuse by schools in the State’s online schools system. Many online schools currently receive state funding. It was estimated during today’s hearing that the overall online school budget was as much as $85 million last year. Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) requested an emergency audit of online schools on September 26, following the review of several Colorado Department of Education reports that exposed serious problems with a number of online school programs.

On September 27, members of the Legislative Audit Committee authorized the State Auditor to study the feasibility of such an audit. However, despite the study released today determining an audit would be feasible, Republicans on the committee-Senators Scott Renfroe and Steve King, and Representatives Brian DelGrosso and Cindy Acree-voted against the transparency and accountability measure.

Following the party-line defeat of his request for an audit of online schools Senate President Brandon Shaffer released the following statement:

“I am very disappointed Republicans chose to make this into a partisan issue, instead of simply doing the right thing.  Despite overwhelming evidence of widespread fraud and abuse by online schools, they blocked an audit that would have saved Colorado taxpayers millions of dollars.

“Instead of fighting for taxpayers, they chose to stand with corporate giants on Wall Street who are bilking Coloradans of millions while providing a vastly inferior educational product resulting in low test scores and high drop-out rates.

“While today’s vote is disappointing, it’s not entirely unexpected.  Lobbyists representing online schools are extremely powerful in the legislature, and that’s why these schools have a sweetheart deal with no accountability or oversight.  

“I will continue to fight for Colorado taxpayers.  The investigative reports of numerous news outlets across the State give us ample evidence of online school abuses.  I will bring forward legislation during the 2012 session to reign in these abuses and restore accountability to the system.

“Coloradans deserve better representation than what they received today.”

It’s quite odd to see Republicans voting all together against an audit of taxpayer funds spent on public education, especially after the heavy press coverage deficiencies in these schools received at the end of September. We haven’t seen a press release from Republicans yet, but the arguments against this audit seem to boil down to accusations of “politics” on the part of Senate President Brandon Shaffer–who, in case you’ve been living under a rock all summer, is running for Congress. Unless you latch onto that and stop, this decision seems awfully out of place. Republicans should want public school accountability, shouldn’t they?

Anyway, you hope this doesn’t become a pattern. There are many issues between now and next November they could become suddenly intransigent over…because Shaffer has an opinion. Just because he’s running for Congress doesn’t mean his opinion is suddenly less relevant.

28 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlue says:

    Keith King’s hypocrisy is limitless. Not excusing the rest, but for King to oppose auditing online schools after the hell he has given public schools for his entire legislative career is stupefying.

    “With internal reports shows students failing 79 percent of all classes, should this school get paid like traditional schools if it has that kind of failure rate?” Kovaleski asked.

    “You have to look at the end result, and I would say there are a lot of schools within the state of Colorado that have very challenging statistics,” he said. “Come back next year and do a story on the successes of our school. I wasn’t here for the past three years.”

    Insight was authorized as an online school by the Julesburg School District Re-1, and data obtained under state open records show that the district gave Insight $7.8 million in state tax money in the past two school years. The Julesburg district kept nearly $400,000 in fees to the oversee the online school, which has had three corporate owners in a year.

    How can Keith King justify not investigating this situation? It’s unbelievable. It’s sick and it’s wrong.

  2. ajb says:

    I can think of 2 groups.

    1. The online schools. I would be interesting to see where their campaign contributions go.

    2. Home schoolers, because home schooling isn’t about the learning. It’s about what’s being taught. And let’s face it, teaching is hard work. It’s easier to sit Johnny or Jane in front of a computer than it is to actually teach them.

    I suppose Republicans would embrace overlook waste and fraud if they thought it played to their political advantage. In that case, they may just be trying to screw Brandon Schaffer and/or teachers’ unions.

  3. WitnessProtectionForGeeks says:

    This just looks bad

  4. Republican 36 says:

    and they aren’t about to let anyone investigate their pet project(s) and find out something is wrong. The online industry probably lobbied for this outcome but it is a shame for Republicans to cover-up a real problem with online education. Another shameful episode by the Republicans in the General Assembly.

  5. ArapaGOP says:

    Republicans have wanted a comprehensive audit of public education spending for a long time. Brandon Shaffer chose what he thinks is low hanging fruit to attack in online schools, but we should be having a much more fundamental conversation. Schools, after all, are schools.

    Shaffer attacks online innovation in education to show he is “tough” on education without upsetting his keepers at the CEA. Good for Republicans to call him on it and to demand more!

  6. keephopealive says:

    Good article in this month’s Mother Jones on online schools.

    Not surprisingly, it is all about the money.

  7. Craig says:

    Absolutely fascinating to see these for profit schools using this excuse:

    Online schools contend they have worse academic performance records because they often take students who already failed at traditional schools.

    This is the line that Republicans have been poo-pooing forever when given by lower income districts like Denver.  Can hardly wait to see if these corporations’ minions in the legislature suddenly change their tune.  


  8. HikingTheAppalachianTrail says:

    That they just audited online schools a few years ago.

    Maybe the R’s on the committee thought it was a waste of $ to do another one?  

    It’s a pretty small slice of the huge public school pie.

    If Shaffer wants to dig up “waste fraud and abuse,” kick over the entire public school log, not just tiny splinter of it.

  9. redstateblues says:

    I’m posting it as a new thread to save space.

    According to the 2006 audit, there were numerous problems found, and those problems were supposed to have been implemented in 2007. Considering the problems that were still apparent in 2011 according to investigations by several media outlets, it seems pretty apparent that another audit would be needed.

    Even if those news investigations hadn’t occurred, the problems discovered by the 2006 audit seemed egregious enough to necessitate another audit more than half a decade later.

    For those of you reading who don’t have the time to go through the report yourselves, here is what the audit found in 2006 (4-8 were just at one school that they looked at as a case study):

    1. In the aggregate, online students performed poorly on the CSAP exams and had high repeater, attrition, and drop out rates.

    2. There is no standard definition of “at-risk student” for use in assessing academic


    3. Teaching and assessment roles are not clearly defined for online schools.

    4. Public funding supporting private and religious education.

    5. Lack of licensed and highly qualified teachers.

    5. Incomplete criminal history checks for learning center mentors.

    6. Lack of oversight for student safety and security.

    7. Lack of student documentation.

    8. Lack of complaint process.

    There was little in the audit about oversight of online education funding, which if I’m not mistaken was the focus of Sen. Schaffer’s plan, other than this:

    In school year 2005-2006, online schools established by rural school districts enrolled a total of about 3,300 students. About 2,100 of these students (64 percent) resided in urban areas. For Fiscal Year 2006 the Department estimated that the State would have saved at least $6.7 million if all online students had enrolled in schools in their district of residence instead of in the online schools they actually attended.

    It says in the recommendation section that a fix would be developed in June 2007. It’s not clear what the fix was, or whether it was fully implemented by 2007.

    Either way, I think it’s pretty clear that online education had significant problems in 2006, and it was feasible to conclude that another audit could have been necessary.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      So Republicans were against more funding through Proposition 103 because they believe public schools can do a better job with their finances but they don’t want to hold the education corporations accountable for their dismal performances.  It would totally ruin their narrative that corporations will always outperform the public sector.

      Classic Republican posturing.

      • redstateblues says:

        is that, above, HtAT had suggested that an argument against this audit was that it would b a waste of money given that an audit had already been done in 2006.

        Well, which is more expensive? Piling on to the $30 million wasted since 2006 according to that audit, or performing another audit to see how we can end the waste?

        • Gilpin Guy says:

          if they want to reduce the deficit by cutting waste out of defense spending.  It seems prudent but you’ll never get a Republican to agree.  Sacred corporate cows are never touched.  

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