Trimmel Gomez, Florida News Connection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A government watchdog group is calling Florida’s growing system of privately run public charter schools “corrupt and wasteful,” and wants policymakers to impose more rules on how charters spend their money.
A new report from Integrity Florida, a nonprofit group seeking to uncover public corruption, claims many charter school operations have strayed from their original mission of showcasing innovation to help public schools. Ben Wilcox, the group’s research director, said charters have become a parallel education system in Florida – with hidden costs to taxpayers.
“These hidden costs represent a corporate for-profit taxpayer scam that looks more like corporate welfare than it does public education,” Wilcox said.
Although all charter schools are nonprofits controlled by their own privately selected boards, nearly half of Florida’s 650 charter schools are run by for-profit companies. Supporters of charter schools say the report is using a few bad apples to define all charter schools.
Statewide, a little over 10 percent, or about 296,000, of Florida’s 2.8 million children attend charter schools. In Florida, when a student opts to attend a charter school, funding follows the student, with the net result of less state funding for public schools.
Wilcox said school districts say their hands are tied when dealing with troubled charters.
“You know, the school district would like to close the school, but they’re not allowed to under state law,” he said. “That’s one of the policy options we have included in the report, is to give local school districts more tools, more ability to manage the schools that are within their district.”
The research found about 20 charter schools close every year, and at least 373 have closed in the last 20 years.
The report makes other recommendations, including requiring charters to report annually their numbers of dropouts, withdrawals and expulsions. It also calls on for-profit companies associated with charter schools to report their expenditures and profits for each school they operate.