Charter schools can be a viable alternative to public schools for some students. There are groundbreaking charter schools in Florida, but their numbers are few when compared to the hundreds that have failed.
Charter schools have become private schools funded by public money. And we've always had a problem with mixing the two.
Florida lawmakers have taken every opportunity to pour tax dollars into charter and private schools. We're actually building the schools now, not just funding the students.
This year, a constitutional amendment that would have opened a new floodgate for charter schools was scratched from the ballot by the state Supreme Court prior to the Nov. 6 election.
All along, one of the overriding concerns with charter schools has been oversight. First it was oversight of curriculum, grading and other classroom issues. And that hasn't gotten much better.
The concerns of late have been expanded from educational oversight to financial oversight. It is state money in private hands.
This month, the former owner of one of the larger charter school companies in Florida, Newpoint Charter Schools, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $5 million on two counts of racketeering and one count of fraud.
At its peak, Newpoint managed 15 charter schools in the state, including Palm Bay in Bay County, Florida, until they separated from the company. All have subsequently been shut down or put under alternate management. While they were operating, some $57 million in taxpayer dollars flowed through the schools.
The owner, Marcus May, stacked the board of directors with friends. He and a partner set up shell companies that sold his schools' furniture, supplies and technology at up to three times their real value — then skimmed the profits off. The companies had no offices, no employees and no customers other than Newpoint.
It's worth noting that the schools were audited annually by the state. But this could never have occurred in a public school.
The assistant state attorney prosecuting the case told jurors that May's personal wealth between 2010 and 2015 rose from $200,000 to $8.9 million. That's $8.9 million stolen from Florida taxpayers.
The most disturbing thing about the case is it will not cause even a hiccup in the Legislature's drive to continue expanding the presence of new charter schools and funding opportunities.
It makes us wonder why state lawmakers aren't indicted for their complicity in sweeping public funds from the floor of general revenue and under the rug of corporate school largesse.
Why do they do it?
Florida education is an $18 billion slice of state revenue pie. Imagine if it were an $18 billion "business," with legislative control of the making or breaking of charter school companies — and the open-ended trail of graft that could create.
You have your answer.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD