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Schools for scandal. Florida's McKay vouchers are a boon for con artists. And no oversight.

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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-15-11 11:45 PM
Original message
Schools for scandal. Florida's McKay vouchers are a boon for con artists. And no oversight.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been keeping an eye on Florida's voucher program for students with physical and learning disabilities. That's a good thing because the state is not doing so.

Fla. Voucher Program Proves A Boon To Con Artists

A shocking report from Miami New Times examines a number of private schools that are living off taxpayer funds thanks to the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program. What the newspaper found isnt pretty.

The program doles out lots of taxpayer money to religious and other private schools, but it doesnt provide any significant oversight. As New Times put it, There is no accreditation requirement for McKay schools. And without curriculum regulations, the DOE cant yank back its money if students are discovered to be spending their days filling out workbooks, watching B-movies, or frolicking in the park. In one business management class, students shook cans for coins on street corners.

Other abuses the paper uncovered include:

* South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy in Oakland Park: The schools 200 students moved from one dingy location to another before a fire marshal declared one building unfit for use. Some classes were held in public parks. Textbooks were scarce, and the music teacher noted that there were no instruments in the school.

* Hope Academy in Homestead: Three staff members were found to have criminal records, two for drug offenses. A woman is suing the school, saying officials did nothing after her disabled daughter was molested by a classmate.

Even though the vouchers' namesake John McKay approved the expansion of these vouchers recently, he said there needed to be regulation and oversight.

McKay scholarship program sparks a cottage industry of fraud and chaos

The recent expansion of the McKay program should only make it easier to milk the system. The new law, which last month easily passed the Florida House and Senate and was signed by Governor Scott, makes students with "504 plans" special accommodations for physical impairments eligible as well. That includes asthma and allergies to anything from peanuts to bee stings, says Ron Meyer, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, who argues that the expansion is "undermining the validity of the program." An additional 52,000 students will be eligible, almost quadrupling the pool.

McKay waffled with indecision before throwing his support behind the expansion. He insists he "would never want this program to be a Trojan horse towards the destruction of the public school system." After reading a partial draft of this story, McKay hedged that "there are sins in every program" but added that the state is unwise to "abandon all oversight... Somebody better get off their ass and fix those problems."

Well, of course no one in this legislature is getting off their ass to fix or regulate anything. Not in this right wing Republican legislature...not with Rick Scott as governor. So these vouchers will continue to go to unqualified people who will get money that would have gone to public schools.

It's been going on for years now. If you read the article, a long one, you will see that cases simply fall by the wayside. Nothing is ever done except in rare cases.

Registering a private school is as easy as filing minimal start-up paperwork. Becoming eligible to receive McKay payments isn't much tougher and relies mostly on the honor system: You must claim to have a location, promise to run background checks on staffers, and either have been in business for three years or have access to a surety loan or line of credit. "The restrictions on opening a school are so relaxed," Stoughton says, "that it's almost a right rather than a privilege."

The DOE has investigated 38 schools suspected of McKay fraud. In 25 cases, the allegations have been substantiated. Of those, five Muskateer's Academy, Paladin Academy, Choice Preparatory School, Center of Life Academy, and Hope Academy were in Miami-Dade.

The thieving schools across the state received, or in many cases are still receiving, McKay money totaling $49.3 million.

In 2003 parents could get McKay vouchers to home-school their children, but a middleman was involved. They got quite a percent of the money.

Brokers get piece of school vouchers

The state's oversight of the McKay scholarships program is so lax that the middlemen - organizations listed in state records as private schools but often just a person's home or Web site - are able to take in thousands of dollars each year in state vouchers with little accounting for how that money is spent. Critics complain that the organizations are nothing more than clearinghouses for home-schooling parents to receive vouchers, something they can't normally do under state law. In one case, a parent complained that the organization wanted up to half the voucher money for itself.

But proponents argue that home-school parents, especially those of disabled students, have just as much a right to vouchers as those whose children attend failing schools or who are poor; both groups are eligible for vouchers under existing law.

A Boynton Beach home-school consultant that received more than $54,000 in vouchers last year was recently investigated by an official in the state Education Department's Choice Office after a home-school parent complained the consultant wanted between 30 percent and 50 percent of a McKay scholarship for administrative and enrollment fees.

Castle Oak Academy, whose official address is a private residence, was also questioned by the former director of the Choice Office for listing its tuition for McKay students at $6,700 on its Web site, but accepting scholarships well above that amount - $15,000 in the case of one student.

Castle Oak's Web site does say that home-school parents need to speak with Castle Oak officials about possible extra fees.

There are others with other concerns about parents getting money to homeschool.

Others don't believe home-school parents should be getting public-school tax money at all.

"Personally, if a parent wants to home-school, that's great, but I don't think the state should be funding it," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the teachers union. "Businesses and schools are being very creative in how to use these voucher laws, and the state doesn't seem to be concerned about it."

One of the worst examples of the misuse of these vouchers was by a faith-based organization in Polk County.

Retrial begins in Florida fraud faith-based voucher case....principal had once been tried for murder

BARTOW -- The private-school principal accused of stealing state voucher money via the now defunct Faith Christian Academy had once been tried for the murder of her husband in Arkansas.

Betty Mae Jives Mitchell, then Betty Clark, and Louise Henry were accused in 1987 of poisoning Mitchell's former husband, Thomas Joseph Clark, with arsenic in Crittenden County, Ark. The trial ended in a hung jury, and the state dropped its case against the pair.

..."The group is accused of bilking the state voucher system, the federal school lunch program and a scholarship funding organization out of about $200,000.

The other six charged are Jeannette Jives Nealy, Levy Gail Everett-Davis, Demario Quowon Jives, Willie James Jives, Josie Mae Jives and Margaret Burns.

Deregulating charter schools and ignoring the accreditation of private schools is just another step like we took when corporations got the upper hand in this country.

It will not end well.

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Angry Dragon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-16-11 12:21 AM
Response to Original message
1. sickening
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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-16-11 06:50 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Yes, it is.
Going on all these years, no one taking a stand against it.
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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-16-11 09:05 AM
Response to Original message
3. Any combination of the words preparatory, Christian, hope, academy,"
"As New Times puts it, shady school operators prey on the downtrodden.

Any combination of the words preparatory, Christian, hope, academy, and perhaps Zion usually appear in the name, writes reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts. The administrators make their arrival to a neighborhood known by leafleting and billboarding housing projects. Or they show up at Sunday services and prowl for old ladies wearing church hats and toting children. The inevitable morning comes when those students show up for class to find only an empty store for rent, or they attempt to transfer to another high school or matriculate to college and are informed their credits are worthless.
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russspeakeasy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-17-11 11:41 AM
Response to Original message
4. Retail store clerks undergo more scrutiny.
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WinkyDink Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-17-11 11:48 AM
Response to Original message
5. I trust people know that "Con Artists" here means "The Bush Brothers."
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