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Beyond the Books: People who regulate charter schools also make millions off them

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Beyond the Books wanted to find out if lawmakers' affiliations with charter schools affects their votes on legislation.{ } (Photo: KUTV)

State Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (Dist. 10) is one of the foremost experts on charter schools in the state legislature. That makes sense given that he runs Charter Solutions, a company that from 2015 to 2018 has collected $5.7 million in fees from charter schools.

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That is taxpayer money given to those charter schools. As many as 23 different charter schools have hired Fillmore’s company to help them administer their curriculum and take care of back office activities like payroll and human resources.

Fillmore says although he does field questions from lawmakers regarding charter schools, he never sponsors legislation that affects them.

He told 2News:

I’m fully transparent, my job, (as a lawmaker) the law requires all citizen legislators to fill out a conflict of interest disclosure. But I take the additional step of telling my constituents that I don’t run charter school bills

Critics say Fillmore doesn’t need to run legislation. He is the “go-to” voice in the legislature when it comes to charter schools.

In a Beyond the Books investigation, video of Fillmore was found during the second to last day of the legislature last year with him speaking on charter school legislation.

He wasn’t the sponsor of House Bill 231, or even the co-sponsor, but when lawmakers had questions about the bill, he was the one providing the answers.

Beyond the Books wanted to find out if lawmakers' affiliations with charter schools affects their votes on legislation. A lengthy list of former and current lawmakers who currently sit, or used to sit, on the boards of individual charter schools was discovered.

They include:

  • Former House Speaker Greg Hughes, who is on the board of Summit Academy.
  • Senate President Stuart Adams, who is on the board of Assent Academies.
  • Rep. Kim Coleman is founder and director of Monticello Academy.
  • Former lawmakers Curt Oda, Chris Herrod, Matt Throckmorton, and Merlynn Newbold all sit or sat on the board of Utah Military Academy.
  • Former lawmaker Rob Muhlestein runs Harmony Education Services.
  • Former State Sen. Mark Madsen sat on the board of American Leadership Academy.
  • Howard Stephenson, who is considered the father of Utah Charter Schools because he sponsored the bill allowing for charter schools, says he does sit on a charter school board but resisted all offers until this year.
  • Sen. Jerry Stevenson, is on the board of Career Path High. His son, Jed Stevenson, is also part owner of Academica West with former state Sen. Sheldon Killpack, who resigned from the senate after he was arrested for DUI 8 years ago. Academica West has helped to build, design and manage 17 Utah charter schools. Stevenson says he never talks to his son, or his friend, Killpack, about business, even though the board of Career Path High meets at the Academica West offices. He said:
The only thing we do hold our board meetings (Career Path High) in their office building (Academica West), but they’re (Killpack, Jed Stevenson) not in attendance.

Beyond the Books also compiled a list of lawmakers dating back to the early 2000’s who made millions off of charter schools while they were members of the legislature.

Former Reps. Glenn Way, Jim Ferrin and Mike Morley where in business together helping to build and run charter schools. The wife of Rep. Eric Hutchings, Stacey, runs Career Path High.

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Beyond the Books also combed through the votes of several recent lawmakers to see how they voted on charter school bills.

What was found is, on a sampling of 13 bills favorable to charter schools, none of these lawmakers ever voted against them. They only time they didn’t vote “aye” is if they were absent.

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Critics have long had questions if lawmakers are using their positions to line their pockets.

Fillmore says he can’t - and wouldn’t - take advantage of his seat in the Senate to make money. He said:

Having a citizen legislature is such a good thing. And having a part-time legislature is such a value, from the standpoint that any laws that are passed, every person here serving in the legislature then goes back home and has to live under those laws that we pass.

Others, like Stevenson says he is surprised that Beyond the Books is even asking these questions.

“I find it interesting, 10 years, and you’re the first one that’s asked me this questions,” says Stevenson.