Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Academica Became The Biggest Name In Florida Charter Schools

Staff Photo / Miami Herald

Fernando Zulueta, president of Academica, gets a drink at a Bahamas retreat for several Academica principals.

South Florida charter school management firm Academica has built a successful network of high-performing charter schools.

The company has also built a profitable real estate portfolio.

That’s the findings from part two of the Miami Herald‘s three-part investigation of Florida charter schools.

Academica’s achievements have been profitable. The South Miami company receives more than $9 million a year in management fees just from its South Florida charter schools — fees that ultimately come from public tax dollars.

But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.

These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show.

The Herald story also documents the intertwined relationships of charter school board members, who approve school business such as leasing real estate, and the business interests of Academica.

A companion story documents the how the company has built its Tallahassee influence, through more than $200,000 in campaign donations and hiring a lawmaker to work as a lobbyist.

You can find the full Herald series here.


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