The Privatization Pandemic

Andy Spears
3 min readApr 23, 2020

In recent days, I’ve reported on virtual vultures seeking to profit off of the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports have indicated that both Pearson (Tennessee Connections Academy) and K12, Inc. (Tennessee Virtual Academy) are seeking to extend their money grabs by offering their wares as a “solution” for public schools. Now, a report from the Koch Family Foundation-funded Mercatus Center further illuminates this very real privatization plan.

Instead of attempting to create new virtual platforms, school districts and physical charter schools should create public-private partnerships with virtual learning providers. Some private providers are prepared for this arrangement. K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, two of the nation’s largest K-12 online learning companies, have already created resources to assist districts. K12 Inc. has offered district school students access to the company’s online curriculum, while Connections has posted videos online and scheduled webinars to help traditional classroom teachers adapt instruction.

At least one public virtual school has also announced that it can expand its services. The nation’s largest state-based virtual school, the Florida Virtual School, is offering training for state teachers.8 VirtualSC, South Carolina’s online school, is providing similar services.9 According to local media, Florida Virtual School is prepared to increase its capacity to 400,000 students. If demand continues, the school is considering assigning students to certain times of the day to access content, staggering instruction so that servers are not overloaded.

So, go virtual and give private providers more cash with less oversight. We’ve seen how that worked out in Tennessee’s unfortunate embrace of K12, Inc.:

Take, for example, Tennessee, where K12 Inc. has spent between half a million and $1.1 million hiring lobbyists over several years. One of them was chief of staff to former Tennessee governor and current U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is the chairman of the education committee in the Senate.

The state passed a virtual school law in 2011 that mirrored model legislation written by The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an influential conservative think tank. A few schools opened up, including one run by K12 Inc. through a poor, rural school district in the northeastern part of the state.

Since then, K12’s Tennessee Virtual Academy, whose enrollment at one point ballooned to



Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .