A whistleblower is claiming publishers have offered lower prices on instructional material to Florida’s bigger school districts, violating Florida law by overcharging rural districts.
Komisar Spicola, a law firm representing the whistleblower, sent letters in March to the General Counsels for the Department of Education and Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody. The whistleblower alleged some of the nation’s biggest textbook publishers offered and provided free or reduced cost textbooks to some districts but not others, violating Florida statute.
Under Florida law, publishers of instruction materials are required to offer materials at the same price as the lowest price offered to any state or school district in the United States. The law also requires prices be automatically reduced when reductions are made elsewhere in the country, and materials be provided free of charge to the same extent they are provided free to any other state or school district.
Publishers are required to pledge to follow the law during the textbook adoption process. They must certify understanding of and compliance with the pricing laws on documents required for them to fill textbook bids.
The letters include several examples from 2021 that the whistleblower believes may violate the statute.
According to documents supplied in one of the letters, Madison County purchased 324 copies of five-year print/digital subscriptions to McGraw Hill’s Florida Comprehensive Student Bundle for 1st Grade for $219 each in 2021. In the same year, Polk County purchased 1,429 of the same subscriptions for one cent and 420 subscriptions at the original price.
McGraw Hill also offered Polk County the subscriptions at $165 if the district bundled educational material for all grade levels, according to the documents.
Madison paid $70,956 for the subscriptions. If they were charged the $165 allegedly offered to Polk County, the cost would have been $53,460, meaning there was a potential overcharge of $17,496.
Under Florida law, the publisher could be required to pay the Department of Education three times the total they were paid in excess or three times the value of instructional materials that should have been given for free.
The whistleblower also alleges similar transactions occurred in 2021 with free or reduced prices being offered and used by Hillsborough County over Hamilton County in purchases from McGraw; for Volusia County over Charlotte County in purchases of five-year first grade subscriptions to Benchmark Education materials; and for Miami-Dade County over Madison County in purchases of ninth grade products from the Savvas Learning Company. No documents were supplied in the letter to back up those allegations
In the letter, the whistleblower alleged that no state agency actively monitors publisher compliance. The whistleblower’s attorneys said the whistleblower is continuing to investigate a possible False Claims Act suit.
Florida Politics has reached out to the General Counsel’s Offices to request comment. This story will be updated with their responses.