How private companies reap profits from public schools

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The charter school industry is a flash point in education policy debate. Proponents argue they are a viable option in turning around failing public schools. Opponents say they divert money away from traditional public schools and policy makers seem to appreciate the potential for innovation charters provide.

WTSP took a look at the finances of charter schools and explored the different ways charters haul in tax dollars. Charter schools are public schools authorized by local school districts but operated by a nonprofit company. The company collects the per-pupil funding that would have otherwise gone to the school district.

The WTSP 10 Investigate report found many companies balance its books by renting out buildings to schools. When a private company lands a contract for a charter the company’s development arm acquires the land, builds the school and then charges rent.

The report examined the finances of Winthrop Charter in Riverview and Charter Schools USA. Both CUSA and Winthrop Charter officials tell WTSP that the schools are operated as nonprofit entities, and robust FCAT scores and happy parents are proof of success.