Colin Woodard of the Portland Press Herald/ Maine Sunday Telegram checked emails, donations and legislative bills to determine who was behind the state’s push to approve virtual schools. He writes:
“A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.”
His story is among the finalists for this year’s Gerald Loeb Award that recognizes business and financial journalism.
Colin says reporters need public records to determine what influence companies may have on creating virtual school policies. He used public records requests to get more than 1,000 pages of emails to find those connections.
“One would want to seek traffic between interested companies and allied school reform organizations and state officials and legislators,” he says. Colin says the list might include:
- Key officials in the governor’s office, including the scheduler
- The state education department
- Key legislators
- Charter school authorizing body or bodies
- Individual school districts
In addition to emails, he recommends looking for affiliations with the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Matching relevant legislation introduced in your state with the ALEC draft bills leaked to and published at the websites of the Center for Media and Democracy, and Common Cause may also be revealing,” he says.
Also, check IRS 990 forms to find information about relationships and inter-relationships for some of the organizations, he says.
Finally, use your state government’s disclosure databases to track campaign donations and lobbying activities. Colin says the websites offer full data sets, but searching for or using the data can be a challenge. He suggests contacting the staff that oversees the disclosures for help.