Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weird Waterford software and Imagine Learning software connection. Who's getting state contracts?

1. I posted extensively a few years ago about when the failed UPSTART bill for free laptops for preschoolers, or "Welfare for Waterford" bill was dishonestly lumped into an omnibus bill of dubious constitutionality.

It passed, and then Waterford Institute received a whole bunch of money after a Request For Proposals was specifically tailored to obtain their sevices. I would love some very solidly documented data on the demographics, locations, and initial Reading Scores of the students receiving these laptops. Then I would like the follow-up scores, and a comparison of the free laptop kids with the other students at their respective schools. Howard Stephenson, the omnibus sponsor, is all about accountability. Is this data available?

2. I posted once last year about how a local software company got a statewide contract (a mysterious statewide contract--I have never been able to track down where, when, and why it was granted) to provide software to help students learn English after making $12,000 in campaign donations to prominent local Republican legislators and the governor.
Is there data available on how many schools used this software for how many students and how much they paid? What about comparable before and after scores? The program looks awesome, but do we know?

3. The Daily Herald printed a glowing profile of Imagine Learning today.
There were a few paragraphs profiling Susan Praetor, the Imagine Learning CEO, and she was a Vice President at Waterford Institute for 11 years. She specifically was the head of the team that developed the Waterford Software being used on the laptops for preschoolers. It's been years, but now she's the CEO who gets a state contract the year after Waterford and after donating $12,000 from her current company to influential politicians.

That is a really weird coincidence.

4. The Beverly Taylor Sorenson arts program was also part of that 2008 omnibus bill, but was one of the about-to-pass bills held hostage for the failed bills. The appropriated money got shaved by 1/3 during the recession, but this specifically designated program survived the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts. The program seems great, both in terms of effective learning and in enriching school for kids when so much is being sacrificed for literacy and math test scores these days. Beverly Taylor Sorenson seems like a powerful advocate for the arts and an extremely generous philanthropist. I would love for my children to participate in her program integrating arts and other academic subjects. She was also the top political donor in the state in the 2010 election cycle.

The impressive program needs $4 million in new funding for next school year. What do you bet she gets it?

5. Initial conclusion: It doesn't appear bad programs are getting funded because of political contributions.

However, typically, education money from the state is sent to local districts to make spending decisions at the local level according to need. A lot of good programs exist to meet a lot of important needs, and not every company gets the contracts they desire.

It does appear that the key to getting your particular good program singled out for a contract and funded at the state level, before being sent on to districts, is to make significant financial contributions to local politicians and/or hire an influential lobbyist.

What do you think?


No comments: