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Sunshine Economy: K12 Responds to Critics, Pandemic Economy Wears On

Miami Dade Schools k-12 troubles-09092020.jpeg
screenshot: Tom Hudson
A screenshot of the Sept. 9, 2020 Miami Dade County Public School Board meeting held via Zoom. Several hundred voicemails and emails from the public were heard before the board voted to end its relationship with K-12, the for-profit education software company that had provided the online learning platform for schools.

Ten days into the new school year the Miami-Dade County Public School Board voted to stop using troubled virtual classroom software from K12. The CEO responds to critics.

It was too much work in too few days that led to the mess Miami-Dade public school teachers and students experienced with virtual classrooms. That was the assessment from the CEO of online learning software company K12. The company was supposed to supply lessons via the Internet.

"Teachers were not trained because we didn't have enough time to train them appropriately. Systems interfaces had to be built into the Miami-Dade system and volumes had to be tested. All of those things had to be done in a six-week timeframe. And candidly, we just didn't get all those things done," said K12 CEO Nate Davis.

The new school year got off to a disastrous start two weeks ago in Miami-Dade. The school district’s web portal was the target of Internet attacks, and there were problems with the K12 software. Ten days into the new school year, the Miami-Dade school board heard hundreds of complaints, and by early Thursday morning the board voted to ditch the platform.

Davis said the short timespan and complicated technology worked against K12.

Sunshine Economy: K12 Responds to Critics, Pandemic Economy Wears On
K12 was supposed to be the virtual classroom for Miami Dade public schools. It didn't work.

"The Miami-Dade interfaces were more complicated than we thought, and I think that was the downfall. Trying to get all of those things tested and teachers trained and shown the capabilities within that six-week timeframe was just too much."

The company was negotiating a $15.3 million contract for the software, but there was never a signed deal.

Davis said K12 had its own personnel and that of its subcontractors dedicated to working through the problems but the complexities of integrating different systems proved too much. For example, Davis pointed to transferring the school district's registrar system into the K12 software. Transferring "that data in that six-week period with all the data interfaces and differences that were there caused problems for Desire2Learn."

Before voting to reject K12, the school board listened to hours and hours of hundreds of voice mails and emailed comments mostly complaining about problems with the software. Parents and teachers said the system was not accessible, had broken links to education material, and limited audio and video capabilities.

Davis rejected criticism that K12 wasn't ready to be the online classroom platform for the nation's fourth largest school district and handle more than 300,000 students and 17,000 teachers.

"It's not the number of students. It is the amount of data that has to be transferred. And that amount of data was not anticipated," he said.

Listen More: The Sunshine Economy on Apple Podcasts

Oscar Amuz
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Oscar Amuz, with Volunteers in Action, loads groceries into cars during a food distribution event, Tuesday, July 21, 2020, at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

High Demand for Basic Needs

It has been six months since stay at home orders were first put in place to fight the spread of COVID-19, closing businesses and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

On Monday, Miami-Dade and Broward counties entered phase two of reopening, joining the rest of the state. But business is not back. Bars are still closed in Miami, curfews are in place, restaurants can only partially open. Cruise ships still are not sailing, and travel remains tough.

The demand for basic needs like housing, food and medication remains high.

"We see, at least for the next six months, that financial stability continuing to be the most critical piece of our work," said Hispanic Unity of Florida CEO Josie Bacallao.

United Way of Miami-Dade is doling out $20 million in federal stimulus money sent through Miami-Dade County. More than 9,000 people applied for the money in less than five days when it began a month ago. About $8 million has been distributed so far, according to Cristina Blanco, chief communications officer.

This money is in addition to the $3.8 million United Way of Miami-Dade raised privately.

"It's just scratching the surface," Blanco said.

Sunshine Economy: K12 Responds to Critics, Pandemic Economy Wears On
Demand remains high for basic necessities six months into the pandemic.

Before COVID-19 hit, about half of Miami-Dade and Broward County households were financially on edge — in poverty or struggling to earn enough money to pay for basic living needs like housing, food, and health care, according to the United Way’s research.

"These are families that are walking that edge of that financial cliff where a car repair or a medical bill can have them fall into poverty. So here we are before a pandemic hits, before loss of jobs hits," said Blanco. "This is before they're even in poverty. They're paying their bills. They're paying their taxes. They're doing all the right things, but they don't qualify for any kind of public services."

The economic vulnerability is higher for Black people. During the recovery from the Great Recession, the agency found the number of Black households failing to be able to afford basic necessities increased even though the broader economy regained its footing. That recovery ended suddenly six months ago with COVID.

That uneven economy and the types of business that have taken the brunt of the economic consequences of COVID are bringing renewed attention to the kinds of jobs and income that have been so important to the region.

"We can't wait for the hospitality service industry to come back. We need to find families other opportunities for employment," said Bacallao. "Other areas in the country might recuperate much faster, but the thing that drives our economy, is not coming together very quickly."

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.