Will L’affaire Bennett Finally Shine the Light on Charter Schools USA?

When Tampa Tribune reporter William March was sourcing  a piece on the controversy over email exchanges  Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education had with state education departments, he contacted Charter Schools USA. March  got stonewalled:

“We’re not interested in being used in an article meant to misrepresent the great work the Foundation for Educational Excellence does to promote positive educational choices for students and parents by improving the performance of public schools in the U.S.”

Charter Schools CEO, Jonathan Hage, is as well-placed politically as anyone in Florida. Closely aligned with former Jeb Bush, Hage served on Rick Scott’s education transition team and donates heavily to state republicans. He donated to Bennett’s Indiana campaign, too. Charter Schools USA got a lucrative deal from Bennett to take over 3 public schools. Scathing Purple Musings reported that Charter Schools USA received $6 million more than they should have to run the schools.  One year later, Charter Schools USA hired Bennett’s wife – to run it’s operation in….Louisiana.

Indianapolis Star reporter Matt Tully – a Bennett supporter – blew the lid off the story late this week. Influential conservative columnist, Michelle Malkin, ripped into the entire sordid mess yesterday:

Cronyism and corruption come in all political stripes and colors. As a conservative parent of public charter school-educated children, I am especially appalled by these pocket-lining GOP elites who are giving grassroots education reformers a bad name and cashing in on their betrayal of limited-government principles.

It turns out that Bennett’s wife was hired by an outfit called “Charter Schools USA” to serve as a regional director in Florida. The group just happens to be the same one Bennett contracted with to operate schools in Indianapolis that the state had taken over. The Indianapolis Star reported: “Tina Bennett is now earning a paycheck from the company her husband handpicked to take over schools in Indiana, a decision that was very good for the company’s financial fortunes.” Like the Church Lady said: How conveeeenient!

Indianapolis-based Drew Smith reported for RTV6 that Charter Schools USA is attempting to emphasize that Tina Bennett is the regional director for three Louisiana schools. Whether or nor she is Florida-based is unclear.

RTV6 confirmed that Tina Bennett works for Charter Schools USA.

The Florida-based group was hired while her husband was Indiana’s Education Chief to oversee three IPS schools including Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual and Howe high schools.

A spokesperson for the company said Tina Bennett was hired last June.

She works as a regional director for the group’s schools in Louisiana– not Indiana or Florida.

“We were sensitive to potential perceptions and carefully considered this during the hiring process which is why Tina’s responsibilities are limited to our schools in Louisiana,” a statement from Charter Schools USA said. “Based upon her professional qualifications and achievements, we stand behind our decision to hire Tina.”

There is no question the Bennett’s are able education administrators. The politically savvy couple could expand Hage’s Charter School USA empire throughout Louisiana where a friendly governor in Bobby Jindal and another Bush Foundation Chief for Change in John White run things.

But the Bennett episode should finally take the  false façade of purity off Florida’s for-profit charter school industry in general, and Charter Schools USA in particular. As Malkin writes, it’s all too convenient. L’affaire Bennett also puts final rest to the for-profit charter school blather that it’s about the kids when it’s really all about some adults getting their way.

Charter Schools USA fuels it’s operation off taxpayer money for the privilege to teach the nation’s children. They should no longer be able to blow off legitimate inquiries from reporters like March.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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4 Responses to Will L’affaire Bennett Finally Shine the Light on Charter Schools USA?

  1. Kenny says:

    Great exposé Bob!

  2. There’s a lot more fire behind that smoke! Somebody please keep digging into Charter Schools USA. There is much more dirty double dealing going on with that company that keeps getting richer while pouring minimal amounts into it’s schools, staff and resources.

  3. camb88 says:

    These guys make a ton of money off the investments they make in Charter Schools USA, as well. 39% tax break, plus other tax breaks on top of that. The New Market Tax Credit (passed in clinton’s last months in office). The more schools they open, the more money they make. The return on investment is obscenely high. Why else would hedge funders on Wall Street be so into investing in the charter schools movement? PROFITS. But hey, it’s all about the kids, right?

  4. Pingback: The Modern Pencil | Charter School Grading Controversy and Rhee Fallout

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