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In response to COVID-19, K-12 system spending $12.4 million on statewide virtual option

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama State Department of Education will spend about $12.48 million for a private company to provide a statewide virtual learning option in the upcoming school year.

The one-year contract with Arizona-based SchoolPLP will be paid with federal coronavirus relief funds, according to information provided to the Legislative Contract Review Committee Thursday.

Requests from Alabama Daily News to ALSDE for details of or a copy of the contract have not been answered.

Jessica Sanders, an attorney for ALSDE, told lawmakers SchoolPLP will provide Alabama teachers with a digital curriculum that can be taught in the classroom or remotely.

“This isn’t what you’d called a virtual school, it’s a remote learning opportunity,” Sanders said.

The department last month issued an emergency contract with SchoolPLP and wants the at-home education option available when K-12 students return to school next month.

In May, Alabama Daily News reported that ALSDE wanted a statewide virtual learning option for K-12 students whose parents may not want them to return to traditional classrooms.

The department last month said a survey of parents showed about 15% were not comfortable sending their children back to school, in many cases because they have underlying health conditions or because they live in a household that has a high-risk person for COVID-19.

The online platform will also be an option should school systems have to close their physical doors again as they did in March.

Nine companies last month responded to ALSDE’s request for proposals.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey recently announced a roadmap for school reopenings, which will include a combination of in-person and distance-learning options in response to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 contract help for Labor

The committee gave approval to other COVID-19-related contracts between the Alabama Department of Labor and two telemarketing companies.

The department said it did not have enough staff to handle the volume of COVID-19 claims being received.

Recent media reports have depicted overnight lines for in-person meetings with ADOL staff in Montgomery as people seek their unemployment benefits.

“I think we all understand the problems ADOL is experiencing,” Contract Review Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said Thursday.

On July 1, ADOL told Alabama Daily News there were 310,427 active COVID-19-related unemployment claims and 47,536 COVID-19 claims where an issue is stopping payment.

Montgomery based ASK Telemarketing is providing live call center, online chat and email support. The five-month, $1.5 million contract began in April.

A $3.2 million contract with Texas-based NTT Telemarketing provides call center and claim management services and “support in adjudicating claimant inquiries and investigations.”

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