Employees of Henry S. Reeves Elementary School in Miami, Florida, recently became the first public school employees in the country to become stockholders in a private company that manages their school.

Officials of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), and the Edison Project, America's largest private manager of public schools, announced in October that all Reeves employees would be eligible for Edison stock options when the company becomes a publicly traded corporation within the next two years.

Executive Vice President Pat Tornillo of UTD, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers union, welcomed the move as a great boost for teachers and other public school employees. "It's the first time in history that the teachers and staff of a school will be able to benefit financially, which means that they would get a piece of the rock," he told The Miami Herald.

In October, 83 of 86 Reeves employees voted to receive Edison stock options. Under the plan, full-time employees can buy shares of Edison stock at a set price once the company is traded publicly. The employees can then sell the stock and benefit from any increase in their shares' value.

Many companies use stock options to reward employees. Although private firms sometimes offer options in return for salary reductions, Edison and UTD officials emphasized that Reeves employees will continue to receive their current salaries and normal pay increases.

Principal Anthony Moore of Mid-Michigan Public School Academy, an Edison-managed charter school in Lansing, hopes to introduce a similar stock plan at his school. "This is revolutionary in public education. Offering stock to employees is an excellent way of rewarding the faculty and staff for what they are doing," Moore told MER. "This would allow everyone to develop an extra sense of ownership and pride in our school."

Moore said that stock options and other business incentives are vital for the survival of charter schools such as Mid-Michigan. "I spent 13 years in the public school system as both a teacher and principal before coming to Mid-Michigan. The biggest difference [between regular public schools and charter schools] is that if we don't improve academically, we will be shut down."

Moore said that allowing teachers, secretaries, janitors, and principals the opportunity to "own" part of their school will further Mid-Michigan's educational goals by providing employees with direct financial incentives to make their school the best it can be. "I welcome this revolutionary innovation," he said.

Nationally, Edison manages 51 public schools serving over 24,000 students in 26 communities. Michigan boasts more Edison schools than any other state, with 17 operating statewide.