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Rapper Pitbull Opening a Miami Charter School Run by a Company Making $158M in Annual Revenue

Meet your new charter school owner, privatizers!

Meet your new charter school owner, privatizers!

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An example of the dangers of the charterization of schools comes to us from Miami, Florida where rapper Pitbull (neé Armando Perez), has opened SLAM (Sports Leadership & Management) Charter School. He will be speaking at this year’s National Charter School Conference alongside Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, and Amanda Ripley.  

Pitbull says SLAM, which is slated to open in the Fall, is founded on his “Three R’s”: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. The school’s mission is “is to provide an innovative, in-depth educational program preparing students for secondary studies and beyond through an emphasis of sports-related career preparation.”

For middle schoolers.

A charter school teaching students how to work in professional sports appears to be a complete 180 from what really needs to be done to help students toward a life of upward mobility.

Education blogger Jersey Jazzman has focused on Pitbull’s misogynist lyrics as the reason he is unqualified to start a school. He suggests “Hotel Room Service” as a good starting point for a taste of the debased.

But Jazzman is perhaps more concerned about the business backdrop to SLAM.  As he reports, there is a seedy element to the network of charter schools that will govern it:

Mater’s schools are ostensibly non-profit; however, all are run by the for-profit charter management organization, Academica:

Academica’s reach extends from Florida to Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Utah and California, where the company also manages charter schools. But Academica is best known for managing four prominent school networks in Miami-Dade and Broward counties: the Mater Academies, the Somerset Academies, the Doral Academies and the Pinecrest Academies.

In the 2010-11 school year, these four chains had 44 South Florida schools with about 19,000 students.

Each network of schools is run by a nonprofit corporation, which in turn is run by a volunteer governing board. These boards set policy for the schools, and also approve the management contracts and property leases — including the land deals with the Zulueta companies. While the teachers and principals work for the nonprofits, Academica routinely vets personnel and recommends principals from within its stable of schools.

The unscrupulous nature of this arrangement is particularly alarming as Jazzman explains:

During the past 15 years, Zulueta and his brother, Ignacio, have built Academica into Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Academica runs more than 60 schools with $158 million in total annual revenue and more than 20,000 students — more pupils than 38 Florida school districts, records show.

Academica’s schools consistently get high marks for academic achievement, with some schools earning national recognition. Mater Academy Charter High in Hialeah Gardens is considered among the nation’s best high schools by U.S. News & World Report, and recently won the College Board Inspiration Award.

And despite recent cuts in state funding for public and charter schools, Academica’s schools have prospered financially: One of its chains of nonprofit schools has assets of more than $36 million, the company says.

Academica’s achievements have been profitable. The South Miami company receives more than $9 million a year in management fees just from its South Florida charter schools — fees that ultimately come from public tax dollars.

But the Zuluetas’ greatest financial success is largely unseen: Through more than two dozen other companies, the Zuluetas control more than $115 million in South Florida real estate — all exempt from property taxes as public schools — and act as landlords for many of Academica’s signature schools, records show.

This is the future of education if parents don’t wake up and demand an end to the leveraged privatization of schools. Rappers are creating professional sports academies with shady landlords and this is the first you’re hearing of it.


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