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Big new player in campaign cash race: for-profit charter schools

In the looming battle for public education dollars, Jon Hage has launched a preemptive strike.

His school management company, Charter Schools USA, has doled out more than $205,000 in contributions to political candidates and organizations this election cycle, state records show. That’s more than triple what the Fort Lauderdale-based company spent on political campaigns in 2010, and seven times what it spent in 2008.

“If we don’t support our friends in Tallahassee, they are left out there to take the enemy’s bullet,” Hage said.

For-profit education companies are becoming serious players in lobbying the Florida Legislature. In the current election cycle, charter school companies, school management firms, online learning outfits and for-profit colleges have lavished more than $1.8 million to statehouse candidates, electioneering organizations and political parties, according to a Miami Herald review of Florida campaign finance data. Most of the money went to Republicans, whose support of charter schools, vouchers, online education and private colleges has put public education dollars in private-sector pockets.

Some observers say the big dollars foreshadow the next chapter in a fierce fight in Tallahasse: the privatization of public education.

“Education battles are starting to resemble private-industry battles,” said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat. “There are a lot of players poised to make a lot of money.”

Historically, the teachers’ union has been the political Goliath of the education world. That’s still true. National, state and local teachers’ union shelled out about $3.2 million on statehouse races and political committees in Florida this season, records show, with most of the money going to Democratic candidates and causes. More from Kathleen McGrory here.

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Can't take anymore

What's the big deal? Businessmen long ago learned that some campaign contributions to legislative candidates in Florida will reap them enormous returns on their investments. Even if it takes chunks out of the woefully funded public schools in this state, the boys in the legislature are only too happy to pay them back. Florida deserves the politicians it elects.

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