Governor Pat McCrory toured a Cary charter school Thursday with the head of that school’s for-profit education management organization, Charter Schools USA.
“He’s just here to highlight a good school,” said Eric Guckian, McCrory’s education advisor, when asked what prompted the Governor’s visit Thursday to Cardinal Charter Academy, which opened its doors to grades K-6 last August.
Jonathan Hage, the CEO of Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based education management organization that operates three charter schools in North Carolina and 70 schools overall in seven states, told N.C. Policy Watch he’d like to increase the number of schools his EMO operates in the Tar Heel state.
“We hope to earn the opportunity [for expansion] by doing a great job here,” said Hage in reference to Cardinal Charter, pointing to the school’s use of “high technology” and a strong discipline policy.
Hage, who has reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns around the country, also cut checks to three North Carolina lawmakers’ campaigns in 2014 — $2,500 each to Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus, Union).
“We support anyone who supports more school choice for kids and does that in a responsible way,” said Hage when queried about his campaign donations.
Last week, Senator Tillman filed legislation that would make it easier for national education management organizations, like Charter Schools USA, to expand and replicate their model across the state.
It’s not the first time Sen. Tillman has filed legislation that would ease the path for for-profit national EMOs. Last year, Tillman sponsored legislation that set up a fast-track process for replication of high quality charter schools and a process for EMOs to take over other failing charter schools.
Tillman and other GOP leaders have reportedly expressed frustration in the past about the pace of charter school expansion in North Carolina since the 100 school cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in the state was lifted back in 2011.
Last year, Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes rebuked his colleagues for failing to greenlight more charter schools, saying GOP leaders want to see “operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity.”
Hawkes also indicated in an email to other Charter School Advisory Board members that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.
Charter Schools USA has come under criticism for running a real estate racket in Florida. A report by the Florida League of Women Voters finds that the for-profit EMO diverts taxpayer money for education to private pockets through shady dealings that result in high real estate leasing fees – paid for by the public.