MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) - A new report says Florida's growing charter school system is wasteful for taxpayers and in some cases , gives rise to criminal fraud.
On average, 20 charter schools close down each year in the Sunshine State, according to a new study from Integrity Florida.
Not only do taxpayers lose money spent on lease payments and school improvements, closures also cause problems for school districts which then must absorb the students.
"All that comes with a cost to taxpayers and this report makes an argument that we should try to eliminate some those wasteful ways that taxpayer money is being spent," said Ben Wilcox, Research Director for Integrity Florida.
Wilcox says one of the biggest issues is the growing political influence of charter schools.
The report found the charter school industry has spent more than 13 million dollars to influence state education policy through political campaign contributions over a 20-year period.
"With the rise of the for-profit charter schools, you see a shift away from that original intent for education innovation and more of an emphasis on profit making," said Wilcox.
Lax state regulation, he says, creates an opportunity for criminal corruption and financial mismanagement.
The study reports 45 percent of Florida's charter schools are managed by for-profit companies and in most cases these schools have poor student performance rates.
One that's run as a not-for-profit is the School of Arts and Sciences here in Tallahassee.
"We have been high performing for about 15 years now so we would call ourselves high-achieving, independent, public charter school," said Eirin Lombardo, Principal of the School of Arts and Sciences. "We're governed by a local group, a board of directors, and we have no affiliation to a management company."
While the report shows mixed student success in Florida charter schools, the School of Arts and Sciences has received an A grade from the Florida Department of Education since 2003.
Wilcox says it's charter schools like this one that prove the system, with changes, can work.
Integrity Florida recommends more widespread disclosure of charter school finances, especially greater oversight of the ways tax dollars end up in private companies' profits.