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Florida Charter Schools: A Go-Go Industry Awash in Tax Money and Little Oversight

| December 12, 2011

Florida likes to put a happy face on its charter school houses. (Don Shall)

What could possibly be worse than legislative gridlock?

A one party-dominated system that greases the skids for questionable legislation.

Exhibit A would be this spring’s legislative session when Florida’s lawmakers:

  • Passed election “reform” that wasn’t needed, and which will reduce access to the polls for young voters, minorities and the elderly. Florida’s new law limiting voting days, making it almost impossible to stage voter registration drives, and requiring photo IDs is the proverbial solution looking for a problem. State Rep. Dennis Baxley recently acknowledged as much when Rev. Al Sharpton confronted him on MSNBC with the fact that Florida has only had 31 cases of voter fraud since 2008. That’s 31 cases out of more than 12 million votes cast in the primaries and general elections of 2008, and more than 7 million votes cast in the primaries and general election of 2010. “We don’t want to wait until voter fraud,” Baxley told Sharpton.
  • Trying to decimate the state prison system so it can be handed over to private companies — companies who donated heavily during the previous political campaigns and who will stand to make tens of millions off of it.

It’s as if lawmakers decided all things in the private sector are good and need no oversight, while all things in the public sector are bad and should be over-regulated.

Courts have already legally slapped down the state for the first two items. And, on Sunday, a powerful investigative report on charter schools in The Miami Herald shows the folly of the third.

florida center for investigative reportingThe report by Scott Hiaasen and Kathleen McGrory is absolutely damning — not only to charter schools, but to state lawmakers. And it solidifies Florida’s standing as the national leader in overreaching government.

“Cashing In On Kids” paints a portrait of a $400 million-a-year charter school system (in South Florida alone) that seems to have become, as things always seem to here in Florida, the wild west of education: schools making up rules as they go and monied interests — often local developers or management companies (many from out of state) — paying themselves exorbitant management fees and/or rent for land and buildings they already own. One Miami Gardens school, for example, spent 43 percent of its income on rent.

And because state lawmakers have been more concerned about promoting rather than regulating charter schools, bad charter schools operate with impunity. Lawmakers even disregarded their own findings from a 2008 study that urged greater accountability and the closing of several loopholes in the law.

“Instead, lawmakers relaxed the rules even more,” wrote Hiaasen and McGrory. “Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill allowing some high-performing schools to file financial reports quarterly, instead of monthly. The Legislature also reduced the amount of money that high-performing charter schools must pay to school districts to cover the costs of oversight.”

And the unrestrained love affair between legislators and charter schools is likely to grow even more breathless.

Last month, the state Department of Education set up a $30 million fund to reward high-performing charter schools. And legislators are already pushing legislation for next session that would strong-arm local districts into sending even more money to charter schools and that would create a new class of schools called “family charter academies.”

–Ralph De La Cruz, FCIR

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11 Responses for “Florida Charter Schools: A Go-Go Industry Awash in Tax Money and Little Oversight”

  1. Kip Durocher says:

    Finally someone is beginning to notice but I think it may be too little too late. the repuglican propaganda machine has cranked out diatribe after diatribe and the people now believe the lies as they believe the “unions destroying the USA” lies.
    Sadly, most of this gutting of the public education system in Florida and The United States is just plain old corrupt crony capitalism and partisan greed. The republicans do not care a whit what happens to this country just as they get their piece of the pile.
    The repuglican party are not the lap dogs of business they are the agents of business ~ ~formal undeclared lobbyists for business ~ they are all getting their pile of money for the sell out of the nation.

    Percentage of millionaires in congress 50% Percentage of millionaires in the general population 1%.

    They are very well paid traitors to their electorate and the nation

  2. palmcoaster says:

    The perfect head line for this excellent reporting…Just as I saw it coming, when back then the privatization of our public education was first proposed by corporate interest lobbying republicans, under the fake banner of “charter schools”
    No different than the latest scam called “privatization of American prisons and corrupt elected officials that lobby for them:

  3. PCer says:

    I would like to know the definition of “high-performing” charter schools and know how they stack up against “high-performing” public schools??? I would also be curious to find out if any of the charter schools are former private schools gone public to make more money???

  4. palmcoaster says:

    At least looks like we agree on this one PCer. Good questions that if you research them, will find your answer and will make you upset about how corporate greed grabs our hard earned tax dollars away from our students benefits.

  5. Doug Chozianin says:

    Solution: Close all “D” and “F” charter and non-charter schools. Cull 50% of the teachers in each closed school and get them permanently out of the system.

    Problem: No School Board has the cujones to do it.

  6. Kevin says:

    Of course democrats are not involved in special interest groups or lobbying as Palmcoaster attacks republicans for.

    This current dismal state of the union we are in with the covert and shaded actions of the Obama adminsitration and their running amuck in corruption filling the “swamp” up past its breaking point, are so much better right Kip? Hopefully soon this will come to an end, and Obama’s dismantling of the constitution so to enter us into a new world order and the corrupt neo-progressive views taking us into a plutocracy propagandized as altruism, but in realty, a perverted form of marxist socialism intent on controlling the masses and obliterating the middle class, exactly as is happening in plain view today.

  7. Kevin says:

    Dare not upset the applecart in the way teaching has been handled by the Department of Education and its liberal structure—look how well it is doing for our children as the years move on. Run by progressives but in fact is the antithesis of what we want to be accomplished.

  8. Liana G says:

    If public schools were doing what they were supposed to do, this whole issue of school choice/vouchers/charters would not exist. If I end up in another crappy school district next year, I am definitely homeschooling! Social interaction will have to take a back seat. My kids have endured enough!

  9. palmcoaster says:

    @ Kevin; talking about the real proponents and promoters of the New World Order, the Bush’s. Sure beat Obama…

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Dear Liana blaming one hundred percent, our teachers and schools for failure to properly educate our children is a big mistake. I see that some of the failure lays with some of the parents of these children…How many parents seat at the table to help and make sure their kids study and do their home work, making it more interest with their parental participation? How many parents promote and share their children, after school sports and extra curriculum activities? How many parents stand in complete attention to give total importance to their children stories arriving home back from school? As is their very important daily lives occurences they are sharing and deserve you to stop the phone call with your frind instead. How many parents control the time their children spend watching TV? How many parents have the courage to address their children out of line behavior, at home and in public? How many parents expose their children to uncontrolled violence and or cussing at home? How many parents promote their children to respect, love and preserve our earth pristine environment and the wildlife and domestic animals that we share our surroundings with?
    Unfortunately I do not see that most do the above, just but observing the discarded litter around us. Schools are for teaching and not babysitting. We at home are supposed to provide the fertile soil for our teachers and schools to saw their seeds and care while sprout and grow. Is a 50/50 alliance at least, to make our students successful learners. Then please stop blaming the schools. Promoting the privatization of our schools via charters will not solve our lack of responsibility with our children. Instead further privatization will only bring us more problems and fraud like you can see in the next link:

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