Are you a concerned public education advocate? Interested in seeing a FREE movie about the for-profit charter school industry and the slow, steady privatization of public education here in the United States? If you answered yes to either question, you cannot afford to miss Backpack Full of Cash at Tampa Theatre on Monday, February 26th.
Those who know me personally or have been following the Teacher Voice project since its inception realize that I have no love lost on the for-profit charter industry, which, to be completely honest, is defrauding taxpayers here in Florida and all over the U.S. But before I make any further statements, let me preface the rest with the following two premises:
- Philosophically speaking, I have nothing against school choice. It would be disingenuous and hypocritical of me to work at a magnet school in an International Baccalaureate program and rail against school choice as a blanket indictment of all charter schools. What I do have a specific issue with is the lack of funding to support school choice in a meaningful way, because at the current substandard rate of funding here in Florida, it is the traditional public schools who suffer the most while trying to serve the 85+% of parents and students who still choose their neighborhood schools.
- Perhaps more importantly–as a taxpayer and fiscal watchdog–I find it absolutely shameful that there is so much corporate welfare and outright fraud happening right in front of our eyes. Our own Florida Legislature–especially elected officials who take donations from companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates–are complicit in the fraud because they are bilking taxpayers for tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars per year, the result being the slow and steady decimation of our public education system in the Sunshine State.
Not all charters are equal. Some of them are undoubtedly started by well-meaning, caring individuals who want to provide a niche program for our students. They are genuinely run by true non-profit boards and nearly every scarce per-pupil dollar is spent on students and the classroom.
The schools run by the for-profit charter school industry, however, siphon off much of the money to their bottom lines in various, ethically dubious ways. Here are a few examples: the for-profit company will install their own handpicked boards that in turn hire the company for “management,” and these fees routinely cost up to 15% of the school’s FTE; the for-profit company will demand that parents purchase supplies directly from the school itself, which is often another LLC that charges exorbitant rates for the basics; in many cases, the biggest part of the scam is one LLC (e.g. Red Apple Development, the construction arm of Charter Schools USA) will purchase land to build the school on and then turn around and charge the school (read: taxpayers) rent that is substantially higher than the going rate/property value, sometimes as high as a million dollars a year. Between all these scams, the for-profit charter magnates routinely take around 25% of all FTE that should go to kids and classrooms.
If you are a teacher here in Hillsborough County, last year alone the charter schools received approximately $125 million in FTE. If even half of our charters are managed by these companies, and if 25% of the money they are skimming from the top for their own bottom lines is correct, then that means they profited to the tune of nearly $16 million. That money could have done a lot of good in our school system, including funding all employees’ scheduled salary increases.
This movie is trying to expose a fraudulent trend spreading across America. As citizens, we have a civic duty to be informed and to demand our elected officials to STOP wasting precious taxpayer dollars, fostering and facilitating a peripheral education system that has little to no accountability, and to make a real investment in public education that serves the interests of our children and their future, not padding the profit lines of these for-profit charlatans.
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