No Contractor Left Behind

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


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.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate