The first Florida charter school opened in Miami in 1996 with fewer than 100 students. Today, there are more than 47,000 students attending charter schools in Miami-Dade County. In some respects, this may be considered a success story that speaks to both entrepreneurial ingenuity and the Florida Legislature’s plan to deregulate a portion of the public education system. But now, more than 15 years later, it’s important for all of us — whether or not we have children in school — to take a serious look at what we have paid for and ensure that our best interests, and the interests of all our children, are being served.
Several studies have should that the academic achievement of charter-school students appear to be on par with that of students in district-run schools. While it is unfortunate that charter schools are not adequately serving children with special needs, they are, for the most part, properly educating their students.
However, it’s disturbing that almost each and every charter school is homogeneous. This country — and our community — has spent the better part of the past half-century integrating schools and neighborhoods, because we know that communities and the economy are strengthened by diversity. As a parent of four young adults who benefited from the diversity in their schools, I’m troubled. Charter schools have been destroying such accomplishments in the few years that they have existed.
In his March 3 Other Views article, Students have right to rigorous AP courses, Trevor Packer of the College Board said that, “The ability of our nation to remain competitive in a global economy depends on harnessing the diversity and the potential within every student.”
I also am concerned about the issue of financial incentives. As The Miami Herald pointed out in its series last year, charter schools in our community have used tax dollars to amass real-estate portfolios worth hundreds of millions of dollars for private landowners. In the past , public dollars invested in land and schools remained in public ownership. They were owned by all of us, the taxpayers. But charter schools are funneling public funds to for-profit real-estate developers, including some who have close ties to the charter school boards with whom they are working.
Many charter schools in Miami-Dade have built high cash reserves despite the fact that they are already paying for-profit management companies a fee to run their operations. Instead of reinvesting these tax dollars into our schools (because charter schools are our schools) they seem to be keeping this money in reserve waiting for legal opportunities to transfer them into private accounts. Over the years the schools run by the School Board have reinvested public funds into student programs, employee salaries and insurance plans, helping to build a solid middle class and boosting the economy.
The path we allow charter schools to take hurts our middle class while not providing significantly improved academic performance.
This is unacceptable. There is a place for charter schools in our community, but we should insist that legislators change the financial incentives of this industry to prevent the ever-increasing distribution of public-education dollars to private investors and to protect taxpayers from being so blatantly stiffed. Most of all, let’s make sure that all of our children are treated equally and with respect. They all should be given the opportunity to receive a great education in Miami-Dade.
Patricia Fernandez-Lefebvre, Miami Springs