Fraud & abuse in FL voucher schools (updated)
I nearly vomited* while reading the Miami New Times’ account of some of the horrors taking place in Florida’s poorly regulated voucher school system, under the McKay scholarship program that gives tuition vouchers to special needs students. Abuses like these are a prime example of why it is so important to have a robust, healthy public school system, with real oversight by officials who are directly accountable to the public. De-regulating that system doesn’t typically encourage innovation, as privatization proponents argue; at best, most of these schools do no better than the schools with which they’re meant to compete. But often, de-regulation does encourage fraud. (According to the article, administrators receiving tax-payer funds for voucher schools include “criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.”)
An excerpt from this chilling article (emphasis added):
…The money was in the form of tuition vouchers for kids with physical and learning disabilities to attend the South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy, the Oakland Park K-12 private school of which Brown — a looming and lean former basketball pro with a slug-like mustache — was founder, president, principal, athletic director, and boys’ basketball coach.
As is customary with schools that receive the vouchers, provided by the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program, the DOE didn’t inquire about Brown’s curriculum or visit South Florida Prep’s campus to make sure it was safe for schoolchildren. In Florida, private schools essentially go unregulated, even if they’re funded by taxpayer cash. South Florida Prep also received at least $236,000 from a state-run tax-credit scholarship for low-income kids.
While the state played the role of the blind sugar daddy, here is what went on at South Florida Prep, according to parents, students, teachers, and public records: Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.
The teachers were mostly in their early 20s. An afternoon for the high school students might consist of watching a VHS tape of a 1976 Laurence Fishburne blaxploitation flick —Cornbread, Earl and Me — and then summarizing the plot. In one class session, a middle school teacher recommended putting “mother nature” — a woman’s period — into spaghetti sauce to keep a husband under thumb. “We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”
In May 2009, two vanloads of South Florida Prep kids were on the way back from a field trip to Orlando when one of the vehicles flipped along Florida’s Turnpike. A teacher and an 18-year-old senior were killed. Turns out another student, age 17 and possessing only a learner’s permit, was behind the wheel and had fallen asleep. The families of the deceased and an insurance company are suing Brown for negligence.
Meanwhile, Brown openly used a form of corporal punishment that has been banned in Miami-Dade and Broward schools for three decades. Four former students and the music teacher Norris recall that the principal frequently paddled students for misbehaving. In a complaint filed with the DOE in April 2009, one parent rushed to the school to stop Brown from taking a paddle to her son’s behind.
“He said that maybe if we niggas would beat our kids in the first place, he wouldn’t have to,” the mother wrote of Brown. “He then proceeded to tell me that he is not governed by Florida school laws.”
He wasn’t far off. The DOE couldn’t remove South Florida Prep from the McKay program, says agency spokesperson Deborah Higgins, “based on the school’s disciplinary policies and procedures.”
*ETA: A contributor to onlineschools.org (see the pingbacks, listed in the comments) apparently took issue with my declaring that the situations depicted in this article made me almost puke. My apologies for being graphic, but that is the full-on, 100% truth, friend! Did you miss the part of the story where one of the un-credentialed “teachers” hired by one of these schools talked to students about menstruating into someone’s food? ‘Cause I didn’t!
Yep, reading about poor special-needs children being beaten and used for profit makes me nauseous. Apparently, I have a weak tummy…or a strong sense of outrage!