Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Is this good for America?
Armando Christian Pérez, better known as the rapper Pitbull, loves Miami. Now, Mr. Worldwide says he wants to play a role in his hometown's education system.
He's the face of the city's newest charter school, SLAM, which stands for Sports Leadership and Management. Located near Marlins Park, the school will also provide front office internships for students through the MLB franchise.
When discussing the demise of America's schools, the Miami rapper said recently, "what happens is education is no longer sexy, it’s no longer cool. I want to help put together a curriculum … where it does entertain them and engage them.” Pitbull's role in the school though is fairly vague. The school's management company says the rapper will not be involved in a day to day role but with "coming up with different ways to get people involved.”
The school will be run by non-profit Mater Academy but it's owned by a for-profit company, Academica, which in 2011 was scrutinized in multiple Miami Herald stories as a part of the paper's "Cashing in on Kids" series.
While the state continues to cut school funding, Academica has continued to prosper, the Herald reporting it runs more than 60 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, with $158 million in combined annual revenue and more than 20,000 students. It also receives $9 million a year in management fees from its South Florida schools, money that comes from taxpayers.
Academica's profitability may very well represent its success with educating young Miamians, but the company's growth also coincides with its owners becoming better connected in Tallahassee. According to another Herald story on Academica, its owners, Fernando and Ignacio Zulueta, gave $150,000 in state campaign donations between 2007 and 2011 through real estate companies they own, and the family itself donated another $75,000 during that same period. The Herald also reports Academica executives and school contractors donated $54,000.
Political contributions aside, many of Academica’s schools do tend to perform well. One of its high schools in Hialeah Gardens was recently ranked as one of the country's best by U.S. News & World Report and won a College Board Inspiration Award.
As for Pitbull, he seems to be a big believer in charter schools. Despite his notable wealth, he recently mentioned in a National Charter Schools Conference speech in July that of his six children, three of them attend charters, saying "I believe in the system. I've seen it with my own eyes." Applauding the flexibility that comes with that charter school system, he then journeyed into self-reference, adding, “like I said in one of my songs, ‘freedom is what we fight for, freedom is what we die for.’”
SLAM officially opens its doors this Saturday.