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DES MOINES, Iowa
A formal complaint has been filed with state ethics regulators alleging that the Iowa Education Department director violated state law by accepting a free trip to a conference in Rio de Janeiro.
The complaint alleges Jason Glass violated the law when he was one of a dozen state education officials who accepted the trip, paid for by the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of one of the largest developers of educational assessments.
The complaint was filed Tuesday and the trip was in mid-September.
"Pearson, which has offices worldwide, including in Iowa City, has $4.8 million in contracts with the Iowa Education Department, according to state figures," said the complaint, filed by Richard Fredericks, of Palo. "The firm could potentially collect millions if it lands a deal to create a test that aligns with new educational common core standards."
Fredericks is not affiliated with the Education Department but the complaint says he follows education issues closely
The complaint says the trip Glass accepted was worth $6,000. It argues Iowa is among the states working to develop a new educational assessment test.
"Glass, and the other state schools chiefs given the free trip, will be heavily involved in deciding if Pearson wins the competitive contract to create the test," the complaint said. "There is no evidence that Pearson provided such costly free trips to anyone not doing business with Pearson."
An education department spokeswoman says the trip was sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and said the company did not pay for the trip directly, instead using its nonprofit foundation.
The Education Department is confident that all ethics laws and regulations were followed in this matter," said Glass spokeswoman Staci Hupp.
Glass has denied any conflict of interest. An email to the New York offices of the London-based foundation seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The complaint was filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Finance Disclosure Board.
Megan Tooker, the board's executive director and legal counsel, said she will review the complaint and refer it to the panel, which likely will review it at a meeting tentatively scheduled for late October.
"They typically order an investigation into the complaint," Tooker said.
Frederick's complaint compared the foundation's financing of the trip to typical business practices.
"Advertisers routinely give free prizes and other freebies to entice people to buy their products," the complaint sad. "This is no different than what Pearson did for Glass -- except Glass got at least a $6,000 trip and Pearson could gain at least $10 million worth of business if Glass and the other free trip-takers select Pearson as the winner of the competition."
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked about the controversy earlier this week, and dismissed the argument.
"I think the department of ethics is reviewing the case, but I think Director Glass did everything appropriately and if they decide anything needs to be done we'll address that moving forward," Reynolds said.
Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazetteonline.com/