NPR

Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: 'I Trust Parents'

Behind-the-scenes marketing has made 'I Trust Parents' the mantra of for-profit, online charter schools in their battles with states and traditional charter schools.
Source: LA Johnson

A free day at the aquarium! For Marcey Morse, a mother of two, it sounded pretty good.

It was the fall of 2016, and Morse had received an email offering tickets, along with a warning about her children's education.

At that time, Morse's two kids were enrolled in an online, or "virtual," school called the Georgia Cyber Academy, run by a company called K12 Inc. About 275,000 students around the country attend these online public charter schools, run by for-profit companies, at taxpayers' expense.

The aquarium wouldn't be something they could ordinarily afford. So Morse, her husband, a friend and their children took the day off and drove downtown to an Atlanta hotel for what was billed as a "day of fun at the aquarium and learning how to best protect our kids and their educational options."

But what happened, she says, was very different. "They were trying to usher us, step by step, in kind of a sneaky way, into a protest," she says. "It was a trick. A basic, classic hustle."

The meeting she'd been invited to was sponsored by a group called Expose Liberal Charter School Turncoats, or ELECT.

At the same time, not coincidentally, another charter school group was holding its annual meeting in the same hotel. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, or NACSA, represents state governments and others who oversee charter schools in the U.S. Most of those are brick-and-mortar schools that now enroll about 3 million students.

At her meeting, Morse recalls, "first, they said, 'we're going to have a poster contest.' Have the kids break out and make posters about why they love charter schools." The prize was a Kindle.

"Then, they pulled out the T-shirts and said, 'Hey, we have free T-shirts, you can put this on if you want.' "

The word TURNCOAT on the back of the shirts raised an alarm bell. "That's not just a political term, it's an old one," Morse says. She

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