Florida charter schools are a $400 million business operating with little oversight whose business interests occasionally conflict with their educational mission, according to the first story in a Miami Herald three-part investigation published Sunday.
The story boils the issues down to these:
•Some schools have ceded almost total control of their staff and finances to for-profit management companies that decide how the schools’ money is spent.
• Many management companies also control the land and buildings used by the schools — sometimes collecting more than 25 percent of a school’s revenue in lease payments, in addition to management fees.
• Charter schools often rely on loans from management companies or other insiders to stay afloat, making charter school governing boards beholden to the managers they oversee.
• At some financially weak schools, tight budgets have forced administrators to cut corners. Schools have also been accused of using illegal tactics to bring in more money — charging students illegal fees for standard classes, or faking attendance records to earn more tax dollars, court records show.
• Charter schools in Miami-Dade take a disproportionately lower share of black, poor and disabled children, records show.
The series authors, Scott Hiaasen and Kathleen McGrory, sat down with WLRN host Phil Latzman to discuss the first story, which focuses on the tangled business dealings of charter schools and their management companies.