Charter school horror stories: Florida edition


by David Safier

How is it that Florida, home of Jeb Bush's "Education Miracle" has some of the most amazing stories about bad charters and voucher-accepting private schools? Makes you wonder how miraculous the "miracle" is. (Hint: It's not that miraculous, even the good stuff.)

The latest story is about NorthStar High charter school. The principal, Kelly Young, was paid a $305,000 salary to administer a school with 180 students. Then when the school closed, she got a $519,000 "departure payment." Total compensation: $824,000.

Total money spent on instruction, including teacher salaries: $366,042.

While Young was getting a handsome salary, the school, made up of concrete portables, lacked computers, a library or a cafeteria for some 180 mostly at-risk and underprivileged students.

Young, by the way, was president of the school's board, though she abstained when the board voted her a half million dollar departure bonus.


  1. Charter schools are bad news in every state. They seem to hold an allure, or they did, not just for conservatives but for some moderate Democrats. Working as a staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida in 1997, our director, a great guy who had been speaker of the House and a longtime legislator and who was very active in the Democratic Leadership Coalition and was helping Buddy McKay’s then-coming campaign against Jeb Bush, asked me to research charter schools for the McKay campaign. It was obvious that “centrist” Democrats thought charters were a great idea and that there was talk they should go even further than Jeb Bush in supporting them.

    Even back then, what research I did told me they were a horror story waiting to happen. And there was anecdotal material about corruption, weird curricula, poor pedagogical outcomes. My report was strongly negative on charters. I pointed out certain material about D.C. charter schools and suggested that McKay might want to “run to the right” (that’s how I inelegantly phrased it — this was a political document) of Bush and suggest that he could point out evidence from D.C. that some schools were teaching a radical, anti-capitalist agenda. Not very subtle or anything to be proud of, but it was, you know, Clinton attacking Sister Souljah, which worked. (I was a big Sister Souljah fan and saw her speak to thousands of people that year.)

    Of course they dismissed my doubts and decided to just echo or even try to out-do Jeb Bush’s “pro-charter strateregy.”

    By now, there’s so much data out there that shows that only a few charters are successful and those are very hard to replicate (and those few schools have results that are very difficult to maintain for years).

    In New York, Bloomberg is putting them in public schools and squeezing the life out of the struggling public schools forced to turn over large parts of their buildings to the charters (a bunch of which are run by a power-hungry former Democratic city councilmember, Eva Moskowitz, like a cult or mafia).

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