The booming business of charter schools in South Florida is no accident. Local charter-school operators such as Mavericks in Education Florida and Charter Schools USA have ties to powerful politicians in South Florida and Tallahassee. For instance:
1. Ed Pozzuoli, former chairman of the Broward Republican Party, is now a registered lobbyist and attorney for Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Fort Lauderdale.
2. Jonathan Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA, served on Gov. Rick Scott's education transition team when the governor was elected last fall.
3. Frank Attkisson is a former state representative who once ran a state commission
designed to approve charter schools that were rejected by local school boards. He is vice president of Mavericks in Education, the for-profit charter school chain with headquarters in West Palm Beach.
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4. Dennis Bakke, CEO of Imagine Schools, also served on Scott's education transition team. Imagine has four charter schools in Broward and Palm Beach.
5. Ralph Arza, former state representative from Hialeah, is now director of governmental affairs for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
The list could go on and on -- and the impact of the political ties is hard to miss. This past spring, the state Legislature passed laws designed to expand "high-performing" charter schools, establish virtual charter schools, and encourage charters to combine traditional classroom instruction with virtual courses.
This year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reported there were 462 publicly funded, privately run charters in Florida. And 348 more have applied to open next year, according to the Florida Department of Education.