Cashing In On Kids: The Miami Herald’s Must Read Series on Charter Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Principals serving as board members and overseeing management contracts.  Discrimination against the poor and students with special needs.  These are just some of the issues the Miami Herald tackles in their recent investigative series on charters.                

“On a sun-drenched weekend in September, a group of South Florida charter school principals jetted off to a leadership retreat at The Cove, an exclusive enclave of the Atlantis resort. A Friday morning meeting gave way to champagne flutes, a dip in the pool and a trip down a waterslide. The evening ended at the casino.

Leading the toast by the pool: Fernando Zulueta, the CEO of Academica Corp., which manages the principals’ schools.

Zulueta had reason to cheer. During the past 15 years, Zulueta and his brother, Ignacio, have built Academica into Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Academica runs more than 60 schools with $158 million in total annual revenue and more than 20,000 students — more pupils than 38 Florida school districts, records show. . . .

But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.

These companies collected about $19 million in lease payments last year from charter schools — with nine schools paying rents exceeding 20 percent of their revenue, records show.

Academica has fostered a close-knit culture among its schools, recruiting principals and teachers who rarely leave the ranks and are often promoted from one Academica school to another — though the staffers technically work for their respective schools, not for the management company.

But the principals play another crucial role: Several also serve as board members at other Academica schools, where they approve and oversee Academica’s management contracts and the real-estate leases — including the leases with the Zulueta companies. . . .”

This is an excerpt from the story Academica: Florida’s richest charter management firm,” one of nearly a dozen recent investigative pieces in the Miami Herald’s Cashing in on Kids series.  Other articles in the series include:

Interestingly, the abuses mentioned in the above articles are not limited to Florida.  This kind of behavior is widespread, and anyone interested in keeping education fair and equitable—especially to the poor and disadvantaged—should take note. 

These articles are also a must read for the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, who recently agreed to sign over 50,000 seats—or 25 percent of District schools—to charter operators as a part of “The Philadelphia Great Schools Compact,” all in exchange for millions of Bill Gates’ dollars.

3 thoughts on “Cashing In On Kids: The Miami Herald’s Must Read Series on Charter Schools

  1. Mr. Paslay:
    I posted on your other entry as I found it via your op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. As you are probably well aware, this is just further corporate takeover of the public schools of this country. It has the added benefit of crushing any teacher’s union. All done by people who in all likelihood never went to public schools.

  2. My child goes to one of their schools. We are not rich or have any connections and were fortunate to get in. We applied because of the language program at his school. Good school lots of caring teachers, parents and other faculty. I have found the school to welcoming and never worry about the safety of my son. Unlike the middle public school close to my house which I chose not to put my child in. Just watching some of the kids that attend the middle school and come from other areas is a turn off. So having the option of the charter has been a blessing. I attended public schools all my life, high school was an experience having had a couple of tenured teachers who could not teach and did not want to teach but yet there they were. Wasting tax payer dollars because they were tenured and could not be fired. So a waste of a whole year of Science in a class where the teacher could not teach. Let me not forget the Alegebra teacher who had a headache every day with the assignment on the board and told us don’t bother me due to his headache. Yes this teacher not doing his job was paid while doing nothing but seating in a class giving a weekly test to students of material he never taught we taught overselves. Oh and thanks to the above referenced Science teacher 5 classes of students ended up having to take another Science course in the same year in night school. So yes, taxpayers paid that year for two Science teachers to teach the same students because one was not doing his job. But I bet you that these two tenured teachers are now collecting their pensions protected by their unions. The funny thing is that if these two teachers were employees for a private entity they would have been fired and their students would not have had to endure a year of struggling and finding ways to be able to learn the material that they should have been learning in school. Amazing people are successful and everyone wants to knock them down how dare people be profitable ??? Well good for Academica for making money and having a good product. They get less than the regular public school and put out a better product. Public schools are a money pit you put in but don’t get a whole lot in return. I hope they continue to have more schools they actually challenge the kids in every classroom. I finally get to use the benefit of paying my taxes for education. If public schools would have been successful they would not have to worry so much about the competition. Charter schools are doing what public schools should do and they get less dollars per student than public schools. I am sure that the herald doesn’t exist for the love of writing, I am sure they like to have profits , and I am sure you are getting paid to write this article and not doing your job as a volunteer.

    Thankful for charter schools and love having more than just one option. The people that actually pay the taxes deserve to be able to use what they pay for….

    • Hi Lil,

      That’s great news that your child is succeeding and having a positive experience in a Florida charter school. And I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had such negative experiences with traditional public schools and teachers. The important thing to note, however, is that your experiences are the exception, not the rule.

      Stanford University has done very extensive and detailed studies of both charter schools and traditional public schools in their CREDO studies, and has found that as a whole, charter schools perform no better academically than traditional public schools. Interestingly, in the state of Florida, when they compared the performance of charters to the performance of traditional public schools, they found that charter schools in Florida as a whole performed WORSE than the state’s traditional neighborhood schools (but the consultants and CEOs are still making millions). Here is a link to the study (scroll to page 35):

      Click to access MULTIPLE_CHOICE_CREDO.pdf

      This is very significant because charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, weed out many poor children, students with disabilities, and can also remove kids who are behavior problems. But even with these advantages, as a whole, they still don’t do better than regular public schools. These are the facts. Research the test scores and read the reports.

      You and your child are very lucky. However, you are the exception, not the rule. The majority of public school teachers in traditional schools work extremely hard and are extremely dedicated, and they are required to teach in settings with limited resources and many challenges. For the record, I am a Philadelphia public school teacher of 15 years, not a volunteer. I work very hard every single day. And no, I didn’t get paid to write this blog post.

      Christopher Paslay

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