An inquiry by the Florida Department of Education’s Inspector General found that online educator K12 Inc. employed three teachers in Florida who lacked proper certification to teach some subjects, according to a draft report.
Virginia-based K12 is the nation’s largest operator of online schools. K12 operates in 43 Florida school districts, including in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval counties.
The company teaches everything from art to algebra to students in kindergarten through high school.
Last year, StateImpact Florida and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that K12 used teachers in Seminole County who lacked the required subject certification and asked some teachers to help cover up the practice. K12 officials asked teachers with proper subject certification to sign class rosters including students they had not taught, according to company emails and other internal documents.
According to Florida law, teachers must pass three exams to earn state certification as well as be certified for the subject and grades they teach. The state investigation, sparked by a complaint from the Seminole County School District, found at least three middle-school K12 teachers in Seminole County who did not have proper subject certification. The investigation, however, did not find teachers without general certification, which was among the allegations in the original complaint from Seminole County.
In Florida, school districts must notify parents if a teacher is not subject-certified. Teachers then have three years to earn certification before the school district is penalized. Seminole County schools said they had no evidence that parents of K12 students were notified that the teachers did not have subject certification.
K12 has refunded the Seminole County school district the $12,800 cost for the 16 courses taught by teachers without subject certification.
The state investigation is not yet complete. Both K12 and Seminole County schools are challenging some of the draft report’s conclusions.
In its response to the Florida Department of Education, K12 said the state investigation confirms the conclusions of an earlier internal review, which found only “minor mistakes” with subject and grade certifications.
“It is troubling that SCPS officials engaged the [Office of Inspector General] before raising these serious allegations directly with its vendor,” K12 attorney Kenneth Sukhia wrote in the response.
Taking the matter up with K12 first, Sukhia wrote, “could have likely avoided or minimized this costly investigative process and the unjustifiable damage it has done to K12.”
The Seminole County School District said in its response that state investigators did not follow up on evidence the company was using teachers who lacked Florida certification. The district cited one teacher who lost her state license but continued to teach until the end of the 2010-11 school year, according to K12 records. State investigators also limited their review to Seminole County, and only to a portion of one school year.
“If a statewide provider was utilizing a certain staffing practice, it is reasonable to expect that evidence of that practice may be found in other counties where that provider operates,” Seminole County School District attorney Ned Julian wrote.
Seminole County school officials and a K12 spokesman declined to answer questions about the state investigation.
The state report recommended a handful of changes to improve K12’s record keeping, including ensuring that only teachers with direct contact with students sign class rolls, distinguishing between homeroom teachers and subject instructors, and maintaining records for at least three years, as required by Florida law.
K12 said in its response that the company has already made these changes. The inspector general will consider the responses and could make changes to the report’s conclusions or recommendations. The agency said there is no schedule for when the report will be finished.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization supported by foundations and individual contributions. For more information, visit fcir.org. StateImpact Florida is an educating reporting project of NPR, WUSF in Tampa and WLRN in Miami. For more information, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org.