Charter School Facilities & Finance

Published February 1, 2002

Charter school operators cite lack of start-up funds, inadequate operating funds, and inadequate facilities as the three largest barriers they face in developing and implementing their charters, according to Richard Seder of the Reason Public Policy Institute in a study of public-private partnerships.

One option for addressing the charter school facilities issue is through public-private partnerships. Two example of such partnerships are satellite schools and workplace charter schools.

Satellite schools, also known as work-site partnership schools, are public schools located on the business property of a private-sector firm. They are primarily designed to serve the children of the firm’s employees. Typically, the public school system contributes teachers, books, and curriculum, while the sponsoring firm provides and maintains the physical space for classrooms.

These satellite schools frequently offer before-school and after-school programs so that there is complete day care for the children at the school, matching up the care of the children with the work schedule of the parents.

One of the first public-private partnerships to create a school in the workplace was developed in Dade County, Florida, under an agreement between American Bankers Insurance Group and the Dade County School Board. The private partner, American Bankers, spent $2.4 million to construct the school buildings.

The first public-private charter school was developed in Miami, Florida, by Ryder System, Inc., the world’s largest truck leasing and rental company, as well as one of the largest operators and managers of school bus systems in the United States. The Ryder Elementary Charter School opened in September 1999 and now serves approximately 500 K-5 students in a 30,000 square foot facility adjacent to the Ryder System headquarters.

Ryder invested $3.75 million to create the school as a benefit for its employees, whose children are given preference in enrolling at the school. Selective enrollment is permitted under Florida’s charter school law, although it is not in most other charter school states. The success of the Ryder school has prompted two other Florida businesses to open workplace charter schools: the Villages Charter Elementary School in Lakewood County and the J.F.K. Medical Charter School in Palm Beach.

Nationwide, private-sector firms have formed over 30 public-private partnerships whose aim is to provide school facilities at the workplace to serve the children of their employees. These investments provide benefits for all involved:

  • Firms that sponsor workplace schools report reduced absenteeism, lower turnover rates, and increased productivity among their employees.
  • School district partners access additional capacity at no cost.
  • Children and working parents see each other more.

Florida is a pioneer in the development of satellite schools and in stimulating partnerships between businesses and charter schools. A key element of Florida’s success in creating workplace charter schools is the provision in the charter school law that permits selective enrollment. Other states can benefit from the Sunshine State’s experience.

Mark Howard has specialized in the development of commercial properties since 1980. He owns and operates M.H. Realty Associates, Inc. in Tamarac, Florida. Readers with questions on facilities and finances are encouraged to contact him directly at [email protected]. The most frequent questions about common problems will be included in future columns.