Crumbling Foundations 7 

Don't fool Idaho, either

"The more desperate parents can be convinced that the public system is beyond salvation, the better positioned education-for-profit interests are."

—from "Crumbling Foundations 1," Feb. 16, 2011

If quoting myself from five years ago seems self-indulgent, forgive me. But after running this series through seven installments from 2011 to March 3, 2016, I've never found anything else said that nails more succinctly what I, and others, believe the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is up to.

That quote is exactly what the foundation's meddling in the politics of public education is about: Parents, who understandably want the best future for their children, are being sold the false and frightening notion that if they don't allow politicians to direct more and more public monies dedicated to education into for-profit ventures, their kids will suffer the consequences.

I resurrected this series in response to the foundation's latest spiel—its ubiquitous ad featuring a kid getting on the bus at school, but not showing up as expected at home.

If I believed the sole motive behind that ad was to promote the best solutions to problems no one can honestly deny are plaguing modern education, I wouldn't be as outraged at the disingenuousness of it. But for at least 15 years, key players in the Albertson Foundation have been investing—heavily—in the very thing they are so heavily promoting. This has to do with much more than our nation's education policies. If you've ever wondered how the very rich just keep getting richer—how the rush of wealth to the "1 percent" never seems to even slow down, let alone stop—the influence that Foundation leaders have exerted on Idaho politics with ample complicity from Idaho politicians can be considered a manual on how, with enough money priming the right pumps, one can gain access to that great aquifer of steady revenue: the American taxpayer.

Following is a timeline assembled largely by Grove Koger, a lifelong friend and a very picky researcher. Further information came from an Associated Press probe into the relationships between the foundation, at least one member of the corporate for-profit education community and ex-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's push to radically reform Idaho's schools.

There is nothing new about any of this. Most of it relates to the decade leading to Luna's reform scheme. But as the Albertson Foundation has shown, it refuses to give up on making that scheme a reality, so must we keep reminding ourselves why we rejected it so decisively.

• Together, Joseph Scott—the grandson of Joe and Kathryn Albertson and heir to much of their fortune—and his business partner, Thomas Wilford, founded Alscott Inc., an investment arm of the Albertson-Scott family. Wilford was installed as president of the business concern in 1993. From 1995 to 2003, he was also the president of the Albertson Foundation. Even now, Alscott and the foundation share the same address and, at least until 2011, the same phone number.

• In 2002, the Idaho Virtual Academy was created with administrative direction and educational material provided by K12, Inc., the Virginia-based source of online education founded three years earlier by Bill Bennett, former secretary of education. Bennett had contributed $1,000 to Tom Luna's first, and failed, 2002 campaign.

That same year, while still the president of the Albertson Foundation, Wilford was appointed a seat on the K12, Inc., board of directors. The next year, he was named CEO of the foundation.

• By 2005, the foundation was handing out grants to charter schools, including the Idaho Virtual Academy, which has grown to be the state's largest online public charter school. Its curriculum was (and is) provided in full by K12. Wilford contributed to Luna's 2006 campaign, as did out-of-state for-profit education concerns, including K12, whose campaign contributions ran into several thousands of dollars. Wilford's compensation as a K12 director soared from less than $500 in 2007 to $107,114 in 2010.

• In 2011, immediately after re-election, Luna introduced his reforms, relying heavily on charter schools and for-profit curriculum providers for solutions to Idaho's public education woes—woes that were largely the result of inadequate funding from the same state leaders who supported Luna. Even while the foundation was running expensive ads in newspapers across Idaho hawking those reforms, Alscott Inc. held 826,000 shares in K12, Inc. By then, Idaho public monies going to K12 coffers was running into the tens of millions of dollars a year. Wrote Joe Miller of the AP: "All the while [Joseph] Scott's family's education foundation was actively promoting Idaho's fledgling online education programs—something Luna has made a centerpiece of his reforms." The siphoning of those public monies continues to this day.

I have never claimed there isn't room for improvement in our public schools. But the two most horrifying and damaging blunders Idaho could make is handing over our public schools and/or our public lands to private interests. Once we go there on either, we'll never get them back.

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