No Contractor Left Behind

How Randy Best’s for-profit education company jumped to the head of the class.

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Oct 2001: Best hosts a fundraiser in his high-rise Dallas condo for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). After receiving $26,000 in donations, Landrieu earmarks $2 million to use Voyager in Washington, DC, schools.

Oct 2001: Georgia schools superintendent Linda Schrenko sets aside $1.1 million to use Voyager in one district. Afterward, company execs, staff, and investors give more than $68,000 to Schrenko’s failed gubernatorial bid. (She will go to prison in 2006 for embezzling federal education money.)

Fall 2001: Chicago public schools reading adviser Timothy Shanahan says Voyager invited him, his staff, and their spouses on a golf junket. Voyager denies placing the call.

Dec 2001: Best donates $10,000 to Chicago schools superintendent Paul Vallas‘ unsuccessful bid to become governor of Illinois. He later lands a job as school superintendent in Philadelphia, where he adopts Voyager. Vallas now heads New Orleans Recovery School District, where he’s using Best’s Epic Learning program in a contract worth $2 million.

June 2002: Best hires David DiStefano, former chief of staff for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), to help Voyager land federal earmarks. By 2004, Voyager rakes in $7.8 million in earmarks, including $100,000 for a program in Ney’s district.

Early 2003: Texas budgets $12 million for intensive reading courses; seven programs apply for contracts. A state Education Commission department previously headed by a Voyager VP selects just one applicant: Voyager.

Early 2004: A Texas school district hires Dallas schools chief Mike Moses, a former Voyager consultant, to help find a new superintendent. Among his recommendations: Voyager VP Jim Nelson. As the new super, Nelson drops $400,000 on Voyager programs. Moses later goes on to work for Randy Best.

June 2004: Voyager inks the first of $2 million in contracts with the Pentagon office that oversees military schools and where Voyager consultant Denise Glyn Borders used to work.

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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