Theres a new demand for online education, thanks to state legislatures in Florida and other states. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is pushing states to require online courses in order to graduate high school.
Florida, Alabama, Idaho, Michigan and Virginia all require students take at least one online course.
The Seminole County schools investigation worried the problems they found with K12 would be statewide since the company provided services to 43 Florida school districts.
Huerta believed they are likely happening across the country as for-profit businesses seek to provide services as cheaply as possible.
I dont think theres just a few bad apples of K12 management doing this, Huerta said. This is a concerted effort.
The Florida Department of Education said their investigation is limited to Seminole County.
But a federal lawsuit in Virginia could lead to a national investigation. It charges the company with misleading investors, and if its allowed to proceed, lawyers would have access to K12 internal company records.
Oversight of K12 is mixed among Florida districts.
Leon County has a typical contract with K12. It requires Florida-certified teachers who are certified in the subject they are teaching.
If the teacher is not both we move (the students) out of there, said Chris Petley, Leon County schools spokesman.
Petley said the districts virtual school principal checks to make sure teachers are properly certified. The district has removed one student from a K12 class because the teacher wasnt properly certified, he said.
But not every school district is checking K12s work.
Hillsborough County schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said more than 2,300 students took courses through the K12-run Florida Virtual Academy. The district has not audited those students to determine who actually taught the classes.
They promise us they meet all of the certifications, Cobbe said. The district does not require online teachers to sign off that they taught a course.
Pinellas County schools spokesman Melanie Marquez said the district is aware of the state investigation, but has not audited K12-taught courses.
The school district will certainly be interested in what the state determines, Marquez said, but the district does not ask K12 to verify which teachers taught which students.
About 70 Pinellas County students in Kindergarten through 5th grade take courses through K12.
Face to Face
But some Florida districts are concerned about improperly-certified teachers.
Two districts, Volusia and Brevard, are surveying parents of K12 students to check who taught their children.
We know what the issue is and what were going to do it see if theres any discrepancy, said Gary Marks, Volusia County schools director of alternative programs, athletics and security. We have no reason to think theres a problem.
Marks said the district could finish the survey this week.
Other districts have smaller programs which require face-to-face meetings.
Orange and Broward county schools believe they would know if a teacher was not instructing a student.
K12 handles fewer than 80 elementary students in each county. The company uses one teacher for Broward County and two teachers in Orange County.
Virtual program principals in both counties said they frequently meet with teachers and parents and ask for both scheduled and unscheduled updates on student progress.
Orange County schools holds a face-to-face orientation with parents and K12 teachers, said Brandi Gurley, principal of the districts virtual school. Gurley said she spoke with Seminole County school officials and doesnt believe the same problems are happening in Orange County.
Gurley said it would be difficult for a teacher to answer her questions about progress if they were not teaching the student themselves.
Broward County virtual school principal Christopher McGuire said the solution is real-life meetings between parents and virtual school teachers.
Its difficult for me to encounter a parent who says I dont know who the teacher is, McGuire said. You cant start our program without a face-to-face orientation with the parent and the teacher.
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 a project of NPR, WUSF Public Media and WLRN Public Media. For more information, visit stateimpact.npr.org/florida.