One of the most insidious parts of the charter movement is self dealing. Many people are not aware of the millions of dollars charter management companies rake off the top in fees and real estate. The Hillsborough League of Women Voters has been gathering data on Charter School USA profits. The League is incensed. Some states regulate profiteering; Florida does not.
Read Pat Hall’s article that appeared today in the Tampa Bay Times. When I read it, I said: POW!
Law of Unintended Consequences Sullying Charter Movement
This is in response to several recent articles and personality profiles which featured charter school positives. That’s fine. However, we need to be very careful because in some cases accountability seems to be falling through the cracks.
When idealistic parents, teachers and academics embraced the charter School movement they had no idea that precious taxpayer dollars would be used to underwrite lucrative real estate deals. Yet that is exactly what is happening in our own back yard. Here’s an example: Less than half of the funds the public assumed were dedicated to instruction ever makes it to the classrooms at for-profit Charter Schools USA.
Where does our money go?
Taxes are paying for fat real estate leases, management fees, rent and interest payments to “disregarded entities,” whatever they are. This does not sound like “putting students first”, as they claim in their promotional materials. Any thinking person would be appalled to learn that the lease rates for Winthrop, Woodmont and Henderson Hammock Charter Schools are even higher than the rates for fancy downtown Tampa office space.
Add it up. You and I, via our taxes, paid real estate fees totaling a mind-boggling $5,138,953 for the 2015-2016 school year! That’s money we thought would go to educate boys and girls.
How is this happening? Charter school laws in Florida are some of the weakest in the United States.
What can we do about it?
First, we need to let our legislators know that they must do something ASAP to stop these shell games, put a limit on non-instructional expenditures and bring to an end all the self-dealing. Tallahassee has tied the hands of our local school boards. Tallahassee can untie them. It is time for the legislature to free our local elected officials to reject these taxpayer rip-offs. We hear a lot of talk about fiscal responsibility. Here’s a good place to start.
Second, we need to encourage our school boards to stand up to these corporate heavyweights. Please don’t just blame the legislature and sit on your hands, lamenting that it’s useless because the laws favor the for-profits. The children lose when we continue to roll over and play dead. Stand up to these bullies, sending a strong home-town message to the state Capitol.
Charter schools were intended to complement the rest of the public school system. What is happening with these real estate and management deals is an unintended consequence. This hurts the boys and girls and wastes tax dollars. We need to put the pressure on to stop these deals right now.
Patricia W. Hall
Chair of the Education Committee,
LWV Hillsborough County