The state board of education in Colorado has decided to turn over schools in three districts to a for-profit management corporation that claims it can turn the schools around, at a cost of millions of dollars. Where there the firm has ever turned any schools around before isin doubt. The political connections of the firm are not.

Read here about the story and a deep dive into the history of MGT Consulting.

In all cases, the state board gave districts the go-ahead to pay millions of school district dollars for MGT Consulting, a for-profit management firm, to virtually take over the schools. The move has elicited hope from some that the company can improve student performance after everything the districts have tried has failed. But the contracts have prompted condemnation from critics who say the firm has a dubious track record and is diverting tax dollars to private profits at a time when every cent should be spent on student needs…

Leaders of the Florida-based MGT say they specialize in allocating public money more effectively while improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom and school culture. Its management process includes sub-contracting areas of school work to other companies, and it boasts completing over 10,000 projects in many states and abroad over several decades.

MGT is more than just a school testing consultant. The limited liability corporation also consults for other government agencies, including conducting impact studies of privatizing public prisons, according to its website. MGT’s current chief executive officer also co-founded a consulting and lobbying firm tapped into a national network of for-profit education institutions, Republican education reformers, the testing industry and charter schools.

That’s part of what draws controversy as public school academia question the motives of a company headed by pro-school voucher officials working to save failing public schools — for profit…

The group began its work in the 1970s but has been led in its current iteration since 2015, when Trey Traviesa first appears as MGT’s title manager in Florida state records.

Traviesa is a longtime Floridian and former Republican state representative for the Tampa Bay area. He became a lobbyist, venture capitalist, banker and charter school co-founder after serving in Florida’s House of Representatives from 2004 to 2008.

While serving in the state House, Traviesa sponsored legislation to expand Florida’s school voucher program. That program created incentives for corporations to pay for mostly low-income students to leave their school districts and attend private schools.

MGT was hired largely on the basis of its claims of success in Gary, Indiana.

Chalkbeat wrote about the situation in Gary, which is inconclusive and certainly not a demonstration of success:

It’s early to say anything definitive. In 2017, MGT won a four-year contract to manage schools in Gary, Indiana. The deal is potentially worth about $11.4 million, if the state funds the contract for all four years and if the company meets performance goals.

Gary’s school district has about 5,000 students enrolled this year, down from about 11,000 ten years ago. The students in Gary overwhelmingly qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty, like in Adams 14, but only a handful of students are learning English as a second language.

In Gary, the state ordered an emergency manager to come in not only for academic problems, but because the enrollment decline and fiscal mismanagement problems landed the district deep in debt. MGT took over the responsibilities of the superintendent and the school board, at the state’s request, and reports directly to state officials.

The work has been controversial. Some lawmakers called for removing the firm when it was discovered that Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent in Indiana from 2008 through 2013, is a partner in the Strategos Group, which acquired MGT in 2015. Lawmakers argued that the policies Bennett rolled out in his time as state superintendent contributed to Gary’s financial problems that led the state to require an external manager.

MGT has not been removed, however, and Bennett doesn’t have an active role in the management of the district. According to news reports citing state officials, since the takeover, the Gary district has decreased its debt, slowed its enrollment decline, and purchased new textbooks. The latest state rating of the district has also improved slightly.

In other words, MGT has been in charge of Gary (which former state chief Tony Bennett tried to destroy) for one year. It has not created a successful turnaround, there or anywhere else.

Was the Colorado State Board of education influenced by Governor Jared Polis, who has a long record as a supporter of school choice, having founded two charters himself?