A major school-industry association is rolling out a campaign designed to make it easier for districts and schools to contract with private companies, arguing that doing so will benefit both commercial vendors and public entities alike.
That effort, dubbed “Private Ventures for the Public Good,” will span issues of procurement, research, and overall relationship-building between the public and private sectors.
The campaign was officially launched last year, but many of the efforts connected with it will pick up over the next few months, the group organizing it, the Education Industry Association, told Education Week.
The role that for-profit companies should play in K-12 school policy is, of course, one of the most hotly contested topics in education. Backers of greater private-sector involvement see the potential for taxpayer savings and innovation in schools. Critics see the potential for profiteering at students’ expense.
In a recent online post directed at the association’s members, EIA President Joseph Olchefske, who is also the president of Mosaica Online, a division of Mosaica Education Inc., a private manager of schools, said commercial vendors’ frustrations with the barriers they face in doing business with K-12 emerged continually at a recent conference organized by the group.
He described the need for the campaign as follows:
[EIA members have spoken of] the widespread problems that exist in the inability of for-profit providers of educational services to contract easily and efficiently with public schools and their school districts. We heard this issue raised over and over again by a broad spectrum of service providers—tutoring companies, curriculum providers, ed tech companies, school management companies. Importantly, we also heard this issue raised by our public sector customers…In simplest terms, neither the “buy side” nor the “sell side” of the marketplace is happy with the state of the procurement process for educational services in today’s K12 schools arena.
In an interview, EIA Executive Director Steve Pines said one goal of the campaign is to reduce the barriers to for-profit companies securing contracts through requests for proposals and other means, so that those processes are “agnostic on the tax status of recipients” of contracts.
Another goal of the campaign is as focused on time as much as it is on money. The organization recognizes that there are many factors to consider when choosing among vendors—academic, legal, and budgetary—but it believes the procurement process takes too long, Pines said. The EIA, which is based in Vienna, Va., and has 250 member organizations, plans to conduct surveys of district officials’ and vendors’ experiences, to illustrate that point and help suggest solutions for policymakers.
“Should it take six, to 12, to 18 months to go from idea to contract?” Pines said. The organization wants to work with districts, he said, to come up with strategies that “save school districts time without sacrificing the fidelity” of the procurement process.
The EIA will also use the campaign to encourage for-profit companies doing business with schools to secure independent evaluations of their work, and to better understand the value that comes with having that research to back up a product or service. School officials’ desire to see those kinds of independent evaluations, and their frustration that there are not enough of them, was a topic explored by Robin Flanagan in a recent Education Week story in our special report on Industry and Innovation.
So keep an eye out for the EIA’s campaign in the coming months.