Most of these states have multimillion dollar contracts with Pearson.
Pearson Foundation did not disclose any of the money they paid for these trips for public officials on its tax forms as it is supposed to do by law.
Here is how one of those trips went and what the outcome was for Pearson:
In the summer of 2010, Lu Young, the superintendent of schools in Jessamine County, a Lexington, Ky., suburb, took a trip to Australia paid for by the Pearson Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Pearson, the nation’s largest educational publisher.
Ten school superintendents went on the trip, which cost Pearson $60,000. While the foundation described the visit as a way “to exchange ideas on creating schools for the 21st century,” there was ample time for play. “Everybody’s highlight of Canberra was to get to see the kangaroos,” Ms. Young said on a video produced by the foundation.
Six months later, in Frankfort, Ky., Ms. Young sat on a committee interviewing executives from three companies bidding to run the state’s testing program. While CTB/McGraw-Hill submitted the lowest bid, by $2.5 million, Ms. Young and the other committee members recommended Pearson.
In April, Kentucky’s Education Department approved a $57 million contract with Pearson. And then, over the next six months, the commissioner who oversees that department, Terry Holliday, traveled to both China and Brazil on trips underwritten by — that’s right — the Pearson Foundation.
Were the trips an effort by the foundation to influence government officials so the company would obtain a lucrative state contract?
A spokeswoman for Dr. Holliday said that the selection “was based on best value and not simply a low bid,” and Ms. Young said that the trips and the contract selection were “completely unrelated.”
“I never had any conversation or discussion with anyone from Pearson about the awarding of the testing contract during this trip or later,” Ms. Young wrote in an e-mail.
Of course she never had any overt discussions with anyone from Pearson about the awarding of the testing contract during the trip or even after - she didn't have to.
The message had already gotten across - you take care of Pearson, Pearson will take care of you.
Here's an example of Pearson taking care of one education official in Maryland AFTER a contract had been awarded to Pearson:
In Montgomery County, Md., the now-retired superintendent, Jerry Weast, approved an unusual contract in June 2010, in which Pearson paid the district $2.5 million to produce curriculum materials that the company would then sell worldwide.
Two months later he was on the plane to Australia.
And here's the tale of an education official from Illinois who really got his money's worth out of Pearson:
Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education in Illinois — which has $138 million in contracts with Pearson — went to China, Brazil and Finland with the foundation. The only Pearson compensation he listed on state ethics forms was the cost of the flight to China, $4,271 for business class. Asked why hotels, meals and the other flights were not documented, a spokesman for Dr. Koch, Matt Vanover, said, “What we’re looking at is a litmus test; they just want to make sure he’s not traveling first class.”
To be fair to Pearson, they got their money's worth out of Illinois too.
Here in New York, former NYSED Commissioner David Steiner took a trip on Pearson's dime to London and disclosed the value of the entire trip as $2000.
A trip to London, airfare, hotel, and food - all for $2,000 dollars.
Wow - that sure was a good deal!
Or Steiner is full of it.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking into all of this to see if Pearson Foundation has engaged in undisclosed lobbying to benefit its corporate parent, Pearson.
Winerip writes that there are parallels between the Pearson story and a case involving an official from the non-profit organization that runs the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona who was indicted for undisclosed lobbying of public officials and undisclosed donations to political campaigns.
The case also has similarities to the “the influence-buying junkets that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged for members of Congress.”
Both Abramoff and some of the public officials he bribed, including members of Congress, members of the Bush administration, went to jail in the case.
So I would hope that the public officials who were on the other end of Pearson's largesse are also being investigated.
David Steiner and other officials in New York need particular scrutiny since the state JUST signed a 5 year, $32 million dollar contract with Pearson to revamp its standardized tests.
If Steiner lied on his disclosure form about the value of the London trip, he needs to be indicted for fraud.
In addition, we are at the point where the Pearson contract in New York needs to be scrutinized very closely.
If Pearson garnered this contract through bribery of state officials, including former NYSED Commissioner David Steiner, the Pearson contract with New York State needs to be negated.
Pearson should NOT benefit from the bribing of state officials anymore than state officials should benefit from Pearson's undisclosed lobbying.