School change driven by policy, not conspiracies

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: February 17, 2013

A new report ominously warns that education-based businesses are interested in education policies. Conspiracy mongers should brace themselves. What follows are a few other “secrets.”

Oklahoma's oil and gas companies take an active interest in energy policies. Optometrists are concerned about state regulation of their profession. Oklahoma teachers occasionally lobby for bills that impact their personal bank accounts (commonly referred to as a pay raise).

That self-interest plays a role in political engagement isn't news, but Washington, D.C.-based In the Public Interest desperately tries to suggest otherwise. The group, headed by a former AFL-CIO political director, argues that because former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush promotes national education reform, and experts from his Foundation for Excellence in Education have assisted state officials enacting policy changes, and the foundation's financial backers include some education vendors, then the whole enterprise must be a complex scheme to secretly enrich those vendors through an incredibly public process.

Like most conspiracy theories, this requires a massive suspension of disbelief.

In the Public Interest implies a conspiracy exists because Oklahoma state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi was once a guest of Louis A. Piconi, founder of Apangea Learning Inc., at an event held for Bush and then-Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett. And, although Apangea didn't fund Bush's foundation, the company did contribute to Bennett's campaign. Later, Apangea got an Oklahoma contract to run a pilot project — but only after winning a competitive bidding process.

So let's get this straight: In the Public Interest believes Apangea received an Oklahoma contract by contributing to an Indiana official? And the “preferential treatment” Apangea got was being required to compete against other vendors trying to undercut it on price and service? Isn't that what happens when no one has been bribed?

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