Charter schools are growing like crazy. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties more than 9,600 children are on waiting lists to attend just 11 of those schools owned by Charter Schools USA, one of the largest companies in the field.
CS USA is a Fort Lauderdale-based, for-profit company that runs taxpayer-financed schools.
CEO Jonathan Hage, a former research analyst who worked for Jeb Bush's education foundation, has since grown the company to 58 schools across seven states. With over 50,000 students, 13,000 of them are in those 11 South Florida schools.
The company has maintained close ties with republican politicians including Governor Rick Scott. Scott is a charter school champion who has attended CS USA's "summits," a mandatory day-long pep rally held before the beginning of the school year for employees.
CS USA has contributed nearly $400,000 to state political candidates and committees, much of it to the Republican Party. Hage himself has donated over $8,000 to republican candidates. He points out that school unions and other traditional public school supporters have given more.
The company even hired the wife of former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, who resigned last month after it was learned he'd inflated grades for another charter school company and campaign donor in Indiana.
Bennett, while serving in Indiana, had picked CS USA to run three schools in Indianapolis. The company has stood by the hire, citing Tina Bennett's career as an educator. Some media outlets in Indianapolis have been questioning whether it's a conflict of interest.
That controversy highlights one of the things critics -- with teachers unions high on that list -- say is a lack of oversight and accountability among charter schools.
"It's an unhealthy movement for the state of Florida," said Christian Schneider, a teacher and Broward Teachers Union member.
Local 10's Bob Norman sat down with Hage to ask him some questions about his company. Watch the video above, but understand that his chief message was this: "Our schools are scoring higher than traditional public schools and doing it with less money than those schools spend."
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