Cashing in on Kids: Investigations Raise Questions about Florida Charter Schools

Fernando Zulueta
Fernando Zulueta, president of Academica, gets a drink at the bar in Cain at The Cove, Friday, September 16, 2011, an exclusive beach club in the Bahamas' Atlantis resort. It was at The Cove that Academica held a leadership retreat for principals of several charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. MIAMI HERALD PHOTO
TAMPA (2011-12-15) -

New investigations by the Miami Herald and StateImpact Florida raise serious concerns about Florida’s charter schools – including who’s profiting from them, and whether they are serving kids with severe disabilities.

That’s the topic of a one-hour radio special, “Cashing in on Kids,” by WLRN/Miami Herald News in conjunction with StateImpact Florida and WUSF Public Media.

Both stations aired the program at 2 p.m. Thursday (a first time this has happened in recent memory) and there was a great response from callers and followers on Twitter.

StateImpact Florida reporters Sarah Gonzalez and John O’Connor talked about the main finding of their three-month investigation: that 86 percent of Florida’s charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability.

And Miami Herald reporters Kathleen McGrory and Scott Hiaasen recapped some of their major findings, including:

- State lawmakers who profit from the charter school industry and then vote on these issues

- A former state lawmaker who was secretly paid $5,000 a month as he voted on charter schools

- Conflicts of interest where charter school management companies are profiting by leasing property and equipment back to themselves

One caller questioned whether racism was at the heart of the growth in charter school enrollment.

A Miami caller, “Alexia,” described her experiences as a mother of a child with autism and as an advocate for children with disabilities.

“Parents are constantly being pushed out from the charter schools,” she said…not just children with profound disabilities, but even children with high-functioning disabilities such as ADHD.

“I’d like for my child to have the same choices as any other child to access a charter school. But I wouldn’t even attempt to put him in a charter school,” she said.

“Randy” in Pasco County said she’s an advocate for charter schools, however her daughter was forced out of a charter school because she was having learning problems.

“They push these people out, because they don’t want to look bad,” she said.

An e-mail from “Jim” in South Miami was skeptical.

“Your guests and their articles remind me of that commercial, ‘Where’s the Beef?’

“Conflicts of interest, potential problems…sounds a lot like the Miami/Dade county public school system. The only difference appears to be, some charter schools make a profit. Oh, the horror! Successful charter schools,” he wrote.

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