House Committee Kills Bill Targeting For-Profit School
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A bill that would shut down a controversial online public school died Tuesday afternoon in a House subcommittee.
The Tennessee Virtual Academy is operated by the for-profit K-12 corporation, and it was just the subject of a NewsChannel 5 investigation into possible grade fixing.
But the Republican-controlled committee clearly sympathetic to K-12. Not a single member of the committee asked about the grade-fixing allegations. Instead, the chairman called on one of the school's teachers before the bill ever came up for debate.
"I know that you're looking at test scores, but we need time for improvement," teacher Summer Shelton told the committee. "And you're exactly right. We do want to have the best for our children, but we want to have options."
Shelton was one of a large contingent of teachers and parents from the Virtual Academy who packed the legislative hearing room.
Democrat Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville argued that the for-profit school should be closed because its standardized test scores so far have put it among the worst schools in the state.
Adding to the concerns, he argued, is the December email just obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Sent to middle school teachers, it told them that "after ... looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes before the holidays."
It essentially changed how grades were calculated.
"What about the internal emails that were revealed last night on Channel 5, suggesting that there is a policy of grade changing within K12 Inc.?" Stewart asked.
"I think what we see here is evidence that they are trying to game the system by having teachers change grades."
Right after Stewart began to push on that issue, the committee cut off debate.
His bill died in a lopsided vote.