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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why does Florida need two Charter School lobbies?

If Charter schools were really public schools as they would have you beleive, we wouldn't need one. -cpg

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Perhaps there’s a reason afterall why there are two charter school lobbies in Florida.

Miami Herald reporters Kathleen McGrory and Scott Hiassen write that the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is taking a turn at advancing Steve Wise’s bill which would force local districts to hand over more of their millage to charter schools. The Florida Charter School Alliance (FCSA) tried last month. Write McGrory and Hiassen:

TALLAHASSEE A legislative plan to give charter schools a cut of local school districts’ construction money would steer millions of additional dollars to large charter-school networks that are already sitting on tens of millions of dollars in cash, records show.

The charter-school industry is lobbying hard to gain a share of tax dollars raised by school districts to cover the construction and maintenance costs of traditional public schools — tax revenue that has dropped dramatically in recent years with plummeting real-estate values.

School districts say the proposal could cost them as much as $140 million a year statewide and cripple their ability to repair aging buildings and pay debts for past construction. But charter school operators say the lesser funding for their students is unfair, and argue that withholding construction money has stifled charter schools’ growth.

Many charter schools collect more tax dollars than they spend, and sock away the unspent cash. The Doral Academy charter-school network, with five Miami-Dade schools, had net assets of $13.6 million last year, much of it cash, records show.

The Doral Academy network is one of four large South Florida charter-school chains run by Academica, the state’s largest charter school operator. These four school networks — the Doral, Mater, Somerset and Pinecrest academies — had combined assets of more than $83 million last year, records show. This money is held by nonprofits that own the schools, which are managed by Academica, a for-profit company based in South Miami.

These schools could stand to gain millions more every year from the construction tax dollars, which would be distributed on a per-student basis. For example, the Doral, Mater, Somerset and Pinecrest academies would receive an additional $14.5 million from the Miami-Dade school district this year alone under the proposal.

Lynn Norman Teck, spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, said charters should not be cut out of construction funding because some schools have been financially savvy.

I wondered last October why there was a need for another charter school lobby when the Florida Charter School Alliance was formed with Wal-Mart cash last October. Perhaps the difference lies in the people who are behind the two. The Alliance has people close to Jeb Bush on its board of directors. FCPCS includes on its board representatives on Florida’s three most controversial charter schools - Academica, Mavericks and Imagine.

Its no surprise that this current effort uses quotes from sources part of Academica’s vast Florida network. The treasurer of FCPCS is Academica president Fernando Zuleta. The Miami Herald reporters are clearly skeptical of Academica’s massive profit margin generated from Florida’s taxpayers. Maybe some charter school advocates are too, and it’s what prompted the creation of a lobby which didn’t have the appearance of promoting Academica’s bottom line.

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