Charter Schools USA
Introduction: Charter Schools USA is a for-profit management organization headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A related company, Red Apple Development, develops and manages facilities used by many of the Charter Schools USA schools. Although most of the schools operated by Charter Schools USA are located in Florida, the company also manages schools in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina. The company is led by Jonathan Hage, a previous research director for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. Hage also served on Governor Rick Scott’s education transition team. Tina Bennett, wife of former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, also works for the company.
Political Connections: According to the Tampa Bay Times, Charter Schools USA paid out over $200,000 in political contributions during the 2012 election cycle. The company also contributed $50,000 to a Georgia PAC to expand charter schools in the state.
Emails obtained through a public records request reveal that Charter Schools USA is one of the many sponsors of Chiefs for Change, a project of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Charter Schools USA joined with other charter school management organizations to lobby for a change to the Tennessee education law to allow for-profit companies to operate charter schools in the state.
The company was criticized in 2011 for having employees attend a rally that included speeches by Michelle Rhee and Rick Scott.
Other: A 2002 St Petersburg Times investigation claimed Hage and other Charter School USA employees established non-profits that went on to apply to oversee schools run by the company. At the time, at least one school board indicated there was no community support for the school, and a school board attorney noted, “We understand how this game is played, and how they’re opening cookie-cutter schools all over the state.”
In 2011, the Orange County, Florida School Board rejected a charter proposed by Charter Schools USA and cited unrealistic budgeting and too much control by the management organization. Previously, a Georgia school board expressed concerns about special education transportation.
A Shreveport, Louisiana parent claims a school run by Charter Schools USA refused to enroll her son due to his special education needs.
Charter Schools USA was sued by Mark Levenson, a former Senior Vice President of Human Resources, for their retaliation against him after Levenson raised issues of widespread Fair Labor Standards Act violations. After reporting the violations to senior management at Charter Schools USA, the company allegedly “severely altered the conditions of [Levenson’s] employment and created an abusive working environment.” Levenson was eventually terminated from his position.
The company relies on tax-exempt bonds to raise the capital necessary to build new schools. In at least one case, Charter Schools USA has walked away from a school constructed with $21 million in tax-exempt municipal bonds, issued by a the City of Palm Bay. The City of Palm Bay issued the $21 million bonds, and loaned the proceeds to Patriot Charter School LLC, a subsidiary of Charter Schools USA. Just three years later, in January 2009, the Charter Schools USA managed schools ceased payments on the bonds after failing to attract enough students to be able to repay the debt. A default notice was eventually issued in May 2012. Charter Schools USA no longer serves as the management organization for the Patriot Charter schools.
Large charter school businesses draw criticism
Florida Charter Schools Spend Public Money Without Public Scrutiny