Chicago, Illinois, June 10, 2013 - Capitol Fax reported late last week in its subscriber email blast that Illinois Policy Institute has flatly denied that its staff have any financial interest in the Illinois Virtual Charter School plan and the millions in local school district tax dollars at stake.
Illinois Policy Institute's sputtering denial was a response to my April 29th blog outlining their involvement in Virtual Learning Solutions, the dubious resumes of key officers, and their connections to the town of Cicero.
But me thinks Illinois Policy Institute doth protest too much.
After the blog was posted, Illinois Policy Institute demanded an immediate retraction of my blog, saying it was completely false and expressed the concern that it was "being tweeted and promoted among school superintendents – among many others." But they offered no evidence to refute my claims or answer key questions.
Ted Dabrowski and Eric Kohn are listed as secretary and treasurer of Virtual Learning Solutions, respectively, and both are affiliated with the Illinois Policy Institute.
As officers of the organization governing the Illinois Virtual Charter School and its play to extract $8,000 in tax dollars per student from 18 suburban school districts, would they have control over where the money goes? Would they be in a position to determine vendors and their contracts? What ties to Illinois Policy Institute would the vendors have? Would the officers hired staff and employees? And what would their ties be?
The Illinois Policy Institute had no answer to these questions but isn't it obvious? Of course, the officers would have control over where the money goes.
Many of Illinois Policy Institute's other denials feel like Clintonesque "it depends on what the meaning of the word is is" legalese. In a April 30th letter to Chicago Now, Illinois Policy Institute contends that Eric Kohn never had contracts with Cicero president Larry Dominick and that "Eric has never served as a personal spokesperson for Jeff Pesek."
But Eric Kohn was operations manager for Dan Proft's Urquhart Media (its on his linkedin page), which received hundreds of thousands in no-bid contracts from Cicero president Larry Dominick. Proft says he no longer has ties to Dominick or Pesek, who have become the perennial poster boys for Illinois corruption, but his "former" Urquhart partner, Jeff Davis, continues to be under contract with Dominick and Kohn has continued on as a paid spokesperson for Morton School District 201 (google Kohn and Morton District 201).
In addition to having business interests with criminals (admitted in court testimony), Jeff Pesek is the school board president of Morton 201. So, come on.
Kohn's involvement in Virtual Learning Solutions as treasurer alone raises serious questions about this organization. Did K12, Inc. purposely ignore Kohn's thin resume and ties to Cicero? Why is he even involved?
One answer may be Kohn's deep involvement with other entities linked to the Illinois Policy Institute's John Tillman and Dan Proft. Kohn is also treasurer of Fiscal Accountability PAC, originally formed by John Tillman and Matt Besler of Liberty PAC. Fiscal Accountability PAC receives cash from Illinois Opportunity Project, Illinois Policy Institute's sister organization, to spend on political candidates.
For instance, in the 2012 GOP primary, Illinois Opportunity Project spilled cash into the accounts of a slew of Tillman-Proft backed candidates. The organization then donated to Liberty PAC (Proft), Empowering Children PAC (organized by Tillman and Andy McKenna), and Fiscal Accountability PAC (Eric Kohn and Curt Mercadante) which then donated to the same candidates. Then four major donors and their wives donated to the same candidates, stacking the cash. The Chicago Sun-Times reported about one instance of this and the angry GOP primary candidates who were opposed last spring.
Bernie Schoenburg of the Springfield Journal Register has regularly criticized Tillman for his various political and non-profit 'hats.'
So the play for millions in taxpayer funding by Virtual Learning Solutions appears to be a lot more about politics and money than it does about the "future of digital education" as Illinois Policy Institute contends.
Illinois Policy Institute reps have been having regular temper tantrums since the original blog was posted. In fact, in retaliation, the non-profit organization has been attacking me using dummy blogs and internet trolls. Unfortunately, Illinois Policy Institute isn't very good at the internet trolling game.
They were recently caught tweeting out one of their dummy blogs in private messages from the Illinois Policy Institute twitter account just moments after it was posted by an employee at Commissioner Dan Patlak's office at the Board of Review, who likes to social media on the taxpayer's dime. One of the trolls who vandalized my wikipedia page was dumb enough to tweet about "her" organization's lawsuit filed by the Illinois Policy Institute's Liberty Justice Center on behalf of Liberty PAC. That's pretty dumb.
But more about Illinois Policy Institute's use of internet trolls and their immaturity later this week.
It is disingenuous for the Illinois Policy Institute, a 501(c)3 organization, to deny the "financial interest" of key staff in the Illinois Virtual Charter School plan however they choose to define it. Both the Illinois Policy Institute and the Illinois Opportunity Project aggressively opposed HB 494 and its one-year moratorium on new online charter schools, which was signed into law by Gov. Quinn on May 24th.
With the Virtual Learning Solutions ship sinking fast, two key officers - including Virtual Learning Solutions president Sharnell Jackson - have already resigned.
But that hasn't stopped lawyers for Virtual Learning Solutions from attempting to continue its appeal to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. On Tuesday, the commission will decide whether that appeals process will continue or not.
Illinois Policy Institute has some serious questions to answer about what its staff were really attempting to do with this virtual school plan and it may have at least a year to do it. Give or take.
Unfortunately, in the case of Illinois Policy Institute, I believe this is about the take, not the give.