- Florida-based charter management company Academica Corp. is being audited by the U.S. Department of Education as part of a larger investigation of school management companies across the U.S.
The audit, being performed by the Education Department's Inspector General Office, is focusing specifically on conflicts of interest at Academica's Mater Academy charter schools.
- Auditors have thus far noted some examples of potential conflicts of interest, such as public dollars being transferred from Mater Academy to the private foundation it also runs, and three of the Mater schools having leases with a development company tied to Academica's founder.
The investigation comes just as Florida legislators debate a new bill that would relax the authority of school districts over charter schools.
Academica Corps. is one of the schools featured on the AFT's Cashing in on Kids site, and its potential conflicts of interest have been well-documented both there and by the Miami Herald, making the federal investigation less shocking.
When the Herald found out about the U.S. Department of Education's investigation, they contacted Academica for a response. The company was quick to tout its superior academic performance — which is the same thing the spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools did when asked about the Cashing in on Kids site.
This re-centering of the conversation brings up a bigger question for the general public: Do high test scores make profiting off of public education okay? And If the end goal is educating students does it matter who profits in the interim?
That is what members of Academica would most likely argue. However, it is not just Academica that charter opponents are fearful of. It's the companies who are profiting without the results. According to Jeff Wright of the Florida Education Association, the new legislation would give more charter schools — regardless of academic performance — the potential to "rig the system."
Because of the results from the investigation thus, many Florida citizens feel the Legislature should wait till the end of the audit before making a decision and changing the current charter school law.
It is also interesting to note that Manny Diaz, the state representative who introduced the new lax charter school bill, is a dean at a private college managed by Academica. Is that a conflict of interest?