New Hampshire received about $156 million from the December pandemic relief bill for school relief. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu unilaterally decided to send $6 million of that to a for-profit company that operates homeschooling pods.
The bipartisan Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act contained $13.5 billion in "Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief" funds, known as ESSER II. Under the law, states were required to distribute 90 percent of their share of those funds to local education agencies. The other 10 percent could be used to address emergency educational needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Sununu instructed his Department of Education to issue a no-bid contract to spend $2 million of those funds in 2021 and $4 million more in 2022 on Prenda's "Recovering Bright Futures Program."
According to the department's website, the microschool company will give localities "the opportunity to provide students with access to Learning Pods starting this fall." The pods will be five to 10 elementary or middle-school-aged students, taught by Prenda's employees in school buildings or other public locations.
According to Prenda's site, the educators it provides for these pods are not teachers but "guides." These requirements to become one of these guides are minimal; they must be at least 18 years old, pass a criminal check, be certified in CPR and first aid, have some facility with technology, and have "6 months of experience (paid or unpaid) working with children (other than your own) in the last 5 years. Volunteering counts!"
Under the contract, the company will receive $5,000 per pupil. That amount is higher than the $3,708-per-student payments the state provides to local schools in "Adequacy Aid," money to ensure each receives an adequate public education, according to the Concord Monitor.
Though the Sununu administration claimed these largely unregulated microschools "are particularly helpful to students who have experienced learning loss and will thrive with more individualized attention," little data is available to indicate how effective they are. Prenda's website says they have provided services to about 4,000 kids to date.
In an emailed statement, New Hampshire state Representative Mel Myler (D), a member of the House Committee on Education, told the American Independent:
Chris Sununu took millions of dollars in federal funds meant to help public schools reopen and remain open during the pandemic and gave it to an unaccountable Koch-funded firm.
Chris Sununu's decision to use federal funds to advance his anti-public school agenda and help a shady for-profit organization, rather than providing public schools the resources they need to prepare for the next phase of the pandemic, could have serious consequences for our teachers and students.
According to a Truthout report, Prenda is backed by multiple nonprofits linked to petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch.
A Sununu spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.