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PolitiFact Florida Gives Lesson On Charter School Profits

May 5, 2017

The Florida legislature is poised to pass a program that would encourage charter schools to set up near academically troubled traditional schools. The bill creates what Republicans call the “Schools of Hope” program, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars toward charter schools.

This was explained recently by House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes. He alluded to a recent series of stories in the Tampa Bay Times outlining "failure factories," public schools in low-income areas that haven't made the grade.

"We're going to fund it in a way that we think ends that system. And the current way we fund that has not ended that system, as we witnessed. So hopefully, this will work," he said.

Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that are managed privately, instead of through the school district.

Now, Representative Bob Cortes, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, told fellow lawmakers "All charter schools are not-for-profit."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that statement: 

Cortes cited a provision of a Florida statute (1002.33 sec 12(i)) as evidence of this claim, which mandates that a charter must organize as, or be operated by, a nonprofit organization.

The Florida Department of Education echoed Cortes’ evidence.

Audrey Walden, the agency’s press secretary, said the defining document that sets the academic, financial and organizational performance benchmarks for a charter school is determined by the local school district and the nonprofit charter school board.

The charter governing board can choose to enter into contracts with private entities to provide services and support.

"But, ultimately, performance and accountability rests with the nonprofit governing board -- which, when it enters into a charter agreement with its local school district, is subject to the same Sunshine Laws and School Accountability System that pertains to all public schools in Florida," she said.

More to the story

Not all charter schools operate in the same way. And sometimes nonprofit charter governing boards enter into contract with for-profit companies. The management company does not manage the governing board, but rather it handles certain aspects of the operations of the school under a contract with the governing board. 

The Miami Herald’s examination of South Florida’s charter school industry found several instances of for-profit management companies controlling charter schools’ day-to-day operations.  

The Herald found examples of charter schools relinquishing total control of their staff and finances to for-profit management companies. In Miami-Dade County, the Life Skills Center paid 97 percent of its income to cover fees incurred by a management company.

Then, the governing board of two affiliated schools tried to "eject" the management company’s managers. As a result, the management company withheld money from the school and threatened to press charges against people within the school from trying to get it back.

The Herald also found that some owners of the management companies also control the land and buildings used by the charter school. Owners of Academica Corp., the state’s largest charter school management company based in South Miami, collected almost $19 million a year in lease payments on school properties.

In other cases, it found that the school’s nonprofit board were full of people with ties to the for-profit management companies. 

This trend continues across the nation. ProPublica reported that several charter schools around the country funneled all of their revenue to a for-profit company hired for day-to-day operations including schools in New York and Ohio.

A spokesman for the state's largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, sent us a report that summarized the agency’s arguments against "schools of hope" legislation. The FEA isn’t completely against charter schools, but its website says, "While some charters adhere to the original idea, and have shown some success, many charters have become for-profit drivers for large corporations bent on taking over our public schools."

This statement leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.