Here in the land of educational neglect, of failing test scores and pet projects, where school districts sell advertising and diploma mills cheat the cheaters, there's a wind of change a-comin'. It's the unmistakable force of privatization.
Lobbying pressure is increasing to channel corporate money into voucher programs for kids to attend private or charter schools rather than the public education system, which in Broward County has a reputation of being bloated and ugly.
After the runaway success of the pro-charter Waiting for Superman and the appointment of its heroine, Michelle Rhee, as education adviser to Rick Scott, charter schools have a receptive audience in South Florida -- and more than a decade of history. In fact, last month Pembroke Pines graduated its first class of "charter starters:" kids who have been in the charter system from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
Around half of students in Pembroke Pines attend its municipal charter schools, run in a cooperation between city government and school operators. The city administers them on a bare-bones model: the city commissioners serve as the school board, and each school is responsible for its own management, reporting to the city manager.
Mike Vogel writes about the growing influence of charters in Florida Trend:
Founded 13 years ago in reaction to parental concerns over the county district's traditional public schools, Pembroke Pines' charter system now encompasses about half of the city's school-age students, 5,700 students in A-graded schools culminating in a high school with a 98.6% graduation rate and 94% of kids going on to college.
Now a class of kids has graduated from high school, having attended the charters since they started Kindergarten.
The schools, which pose an attractive alternative to the Broward District options, have a waiting list of 9,000 hopeful students.
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Meanwhile, Pembroke Pines city officials say that the county should take some of its tax revenue -- including a 5% school administration fee paid by the city -- and give it back, in return for the charter schools taking half of the city's students out of the hand of the district and moving them, one by one, into a system overseen by local government but run with an entrepreneurial spirit.