The Delaware Department of Justice recently answered a complaint surrounding a FOIA I submitted to the Delaware Department of Education on March 6th, 2015. This FOIA asked for the following:
“– the Delaware Department of Education’s contracts (whether they are awarded contracts, cooperative contracts, set aside contracts, sole source contracts, or recently closed contracts, including any and all RFPs, addendums, award letters, and change orders) agreements, pacts, communications (whether in email or written correspondence, email should be in To: formats and cc: formats between any DOE employee with the below companies or consortiums) with the following companies or consortiums: American Institutes for Research (or if they are listed under AIR or Amer Institutes for Research), Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (or if they are listed under SBAC, SB, Smarter, Smarter Balanced, or Smarter Balanced Assessment), and Data Recognition Corporation. If available, I ask that this information be provided in a PDF format for the contracts, and a database format with a delimited text file for the communications. If you have this information in an existing report, that may suffice.”
American Institutes for Research (AIR) is the testing vendor for Delaware with the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Data Recognition Corporation is the contracted vendor for scoring the assessment.
When I first received a response from the DOE, the cost estimate was well over $6000.00. As time went on, they found another contract with AIR from January this year, which caused the costs to elevate to $8,552 if I chose to include this contract with AIR from the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit at the DOE. I filed my complaint with the Department of Justice on March 31st and received their response on June 12th. Below is the DOE’s response to my FOIA complaint with the DOJ, which includes nearly all the emails between the DOE and myself during this process, as well as the actual answer to the complaint from the DOJ.
Not included in any of these documents is another email sent to Tina Shockley at the DOE from myself regarding the lack of transparency at the DOE:
From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2015 4:25 PM
To: Shockley Tina
Subject: Re: FOIA request Comprehensive Estimates
Thank you for this information. Not to assume, but I would have to think this information, like all Delaware contracts I have seen, are available in a PDF format already. Continuing to assume here, I would have to think this research/pulling would consist of a simple search in your system and it comes up. May I ask why the current contract information is not on the Delaware bids website for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and American Institutes for Research? I have found the DOE is usually very transparent at putting this information up there, so I am curious why these vendors would not be. I’m not trying to be intentionally difficult, but others have pointed this out as well. I know it is not a requirement for a state agency to have that information on the website, but most generally do so.
I can say, from my point of view (which I fully understand many don’t agree with), not having something as huge as the contracts involved with a statewide assessment on the website shows a lack of transparency and I have to wonder why that is. It gives a perception (whether intentional or not) that the DOE is trying to hide something. Which is why I asked for the emails in the FOIA as well, because if the contracts aren’t being put up, I wonder what else may be going on. I don’t know how much control you have over this kind of stuff at the DOE, but when our students have to take a huge test like this, parents may be curious to know more information on it. And given that this is a huge state purchase involving multiple vendors, parents like to see this information. Maybe it could even help us understand the motivations behind it as well a little bit more.
My response to this email was a simple “Thank you for your email. I am looking into this internally for you.” That was two months ago and no follow-up occurred whatsoever.
As a result of all of this, I still want to see these contracts. So I am setting up a gofundme account for $1875.00 to cover the costs of the FOIA and the gofundme charges. Parents have a right to know this information, and the veil of secrecy with the DOE needs to be lifted. If they won’t do it voluntarily, I will force them to do it. If you would like to donate to this campaign, please go here:
The DOJ may not have found any proof the DOE violated FOIA in terms of dissuading me from continuing with my FOIA request. I will leave that judgment in their hands, but they definitely overcharged on an estimation of costs for a FOIA by over five times what it should have been and there are numerous examples of this in the Department of Justice response to my complaint. There is a huge difference between $1,725 and $8,552. If these aren’t a means to dissuade someone from continuing with a FOIA request, I don’t know what is.
Some people wonder why I have such loathing for the DOE. This is a classic example of why. They truly think they are above the law. I do not trust them, and I don’t believe any parent should either. This includes the State Board of Education as well. While some insist they are separate from the DOE, I do not often see them voting against a DOE regulation or measure. As a result, everyone else suffers while they continue doing the same things, day after day.
The fact that I have to ask for funds to see information that should be publicly available is very telling. With the amount of funds the DOE spends on parent engagement and community input and wanting the public to see things a certain way, they should be providing this at no public cost. If I were the DOE, and I received a letter like that from the Department of Justice in my state, I would email the FOIA requestor and say “Sorry about all the trouble with this, we will just give it to you.” But five days later, and no response from the DOE on this. So hopefully I will get their funds, give them a check, and spend days pouring through document after document to find parents the answers they may or may not know they are looking for. I’m quite sure more will want to know when the Smarter Balanced scores come in later this summer.
As for the DOE and their FOIA violations? What happens to them? The petition from Chief Deputy Attorney General Danielle Gibbs did find a violation of FOIA occurred, so by Delaware law I could either file suit or have the Attorney General file suit on my behalf. I have not made up my mind on this aspect yet.