Education

Company protesting NC's new K-3 reading contract awaits response from state education leaders

Posted July 3, 2019 3:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2019 10:57 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina Department of Public Instruction leaders are expected to decide by Friday whether they will grant a meeting with a K-3 reading company that was not selected for a multimillion-dollar contract last month.

Amplify Education Inc., which has worked with North Carolina public schools since 2013, is protesting the state education agency's decision to switch to a competitor called Istation for K-3 reading assessment services. In a protest letter to state education leaders last week, Amplify demanded that the contract with Istation be suspended or terminated.

Amplify Chief Executive Larry Berger said he doesn't know why North Carolina changed course.

"We don’t know what may have happened. We’re protesting this in part to better understand what led to the state’s action," he said.

According to Amplify leaders, the protest process works the following way:

  • DPI has until July 5 to decide whether to grant a protest meeting with Amplify (10 days from the filing of the protest letter).
  • If DPI grants the request, the meeting has to be held by July 24, and officials have to issue a decision on it within 10 days of the meeting.
  • If DPI rejects the protest, Amplify has 60 days to file for a review by the state Department of Information Technology, which has authority to make the final agency decision on the matter.
  • If DIT rejects the protest, Amplify has the option to sue in Superior Court.

"If Amplify wins anywhere along the way, the Istation contract must be thrown out, even if it's already in operation," Amplify Chief Marketing Officer Kay Moffett told WRAL News by email.

Maggie Bizzell, a spokeswoman for DIT, said the agency "provides procurement oversight to make sure agencies follow the proper procurement rules and procedures."

"If after administrative review by the agency (in this case DPI) the protesting party desires further review, the protesting party can request a hearing and final decision by the state CIO," Bizzell wrote.

WRAL News asked the state education agency about the protest process and timeline but did not receive a response.

Since it was awarded the contract, Istation has been moving forward and training North Carolina teachers how to use its product. Istation President Ossa Fisher said Amplify's protest is "intended to harass and cause harm to our company after we were awarded the contract – fair and square."

"When state leaders asked for a different direction, we answered the call because we believed then – and now – that we are the best solution for North Carolina’s early readers," she said in a statement.

The state education agency's decision to choose Istation, which tests K-3 students' reading skills using computers, has angered some educators who said the new program will result in increased screen time and reduced human interaction for students.

Local superintendents expressed concern about how quickly the new program was being implemented and asked state education leaders to delay it for a year. In response, the State Board of Education decided to move forward with using Istation but agreed to delay collecting data measuring students' progress and growth for six months so teachers and students could get accustomed to the new tool.

Meanwhile, Amplify's CEO has been awaiting a response from state education leaders about his protest.

"The department has until Friday to reply to our letter, so we will expect to hear from them by Friday," Berger said.