Former Governor Jeb Bush may have had it right when eight years ago he proposed to newly elected governor Rick Scott that he privatize Florida Virtual School. The state government-funded online school has been wildly successful – winning awards and giving students a non-traditional path toward high school graduation. It’s a true pioneer in online education.
But like nearly everything government touches, fiefdoms and corruption seem to follow close behind. And this seems to be the case with the operation of the Florida Virtual School program. Last week’s Orlando Sentinel bombshell report has seemingly confirmed what has long been whispered around Tallahassee – the Florida Virtual School became a financial playground for a few well-connected people. According to the Sentinel report all fingers point to the school’s former general counsel Frank Kruppenbacher. Before his departure from the school last summer, an audit concluded Kruppenbacher exerted significant control over which companies were awarded contracts, and may have requested payments for expenses unrelated to his activities at FLVS.
Why is this important? More than $182 million in taxpayer money funds the school.
The Orlando Sentinel has led the way into alleged wrongdoings at the school. FLA News has also attempted to verify other alleged improper activity but has been stonewalled by the online school. Upon making a request for specific documents that may exist in private email accounts of people associated with FLVS, FLA News was sent a $2,000 invoice that had to be paid before the documents were handed over. That’s right, 2000 bucks to get public documents every taxpaying citizen has a right to see. As someone who worked in state government for years, I’ve seen this move before. It’s usually a stall tactic to contain damaging information from getting to the public.
If the allegations are true, Kruppenbacher isn’t the only one who may have had his hands in the virtual school’s cash box. Of course, we may never know unless Florida Virtual School’s current leadership does the right thing and hands over documents that the public has a right to see.
They also have more than the media to worry about. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has indicated he plans to ask the legislature to conduct an audit of the school. Audits often expose wrongdoing so that’s a good first start.
Let’s go back to the recommendation made by former Gov. Bush to sell the school. Bush said in the letter to Scott, “I am guessing that the Florida Virtual School may have an EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) of $20 million that might get a multiple of 20 or more.” That’s a high valuation for the school. In government terms it’s considered a cash cow, which is exactly the reason for the ongoing audits and investigations.
The legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis should do the right thing – put some sunshine on past spending and contracts and then privatize this school so that it has leadership with its best interests in mind.