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Iowa Schools Chief Defends Trip Paid by Pearson Foundation

Iowa schools chief Jason Glass is facing an ethics complaint over a trip he made to Brazil this month, one of a number of foreign visits that top education officials from across the country have made with financial backing from a leading K-12 company's foundation.

The Council of Chief State School Officers had a role in arranging the trip and it was supported financially by the Pearson Foundation, The New York Times reported this month. The story noted that several of the public officials on the trips are from states that have contracts with the commercial arm of Pearson, and it raised questions about whether the organization's financial support was meant to win friends and gain influence in state offices of education.

The complaint against Glass was filed before the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, an independent agency of the executive branch. The board will meet, possibly in October, to discuss the complaint, said Megan Tooker, the board's executive director and legal counsel. The board has the power to impose a number of penalties, such as fines and reprimands.

It's probably important to note that, in most states, almost anyone can file a complaint. Whether this one has any merit remains to be seen.

Glass, in an interview with Education Week, said he was confident that he had done nothing wrong.

The complaint, filed by Richard Fredericks, from the town of Palo, Iowa, says that Iowa has roughly $4.8 million in contracts with Pearson's commercial operation, a number that Glass said was accurate. But Glass, who has been in office less than a year, said he hadn't awarded any contract to the group. Any previous or future awards to Pearson, assuming they were of any magnitude, he added, would have to go through a competitive bidding process.

Glass also noted it wasn't like he had tried to cover up or downplay the trip to Brazil—he even repeatedly blogged about it.

"I've been extremely open and transparent about the conference and who paid for it," he told me. "I always strive for the highest levels of integrity," he added, and when the ethic review is complete, "I'm confident that will be confirmed."

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