(Pic by kevindooley)
(Pic by kevindooley)

Local investigations raise accountability questions about school voucher programs

By | 06.24.11 | 11:08 am

The Miami New Times is out with a compelling investigation of a state scholarship program intended to help students with disabilities.

The John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program is intended to help struggling disabled students find accommodations outside the public school system, but the New Times shows how a lack of oversight of the private schools that receive money under the program has spawned “a cottage industry of fraud and chaos” that could see an expansion thanks to recently signed legislation that broadens eligibility for the program.

Here’s a taste of what they found at one school:

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.

Keep reading — that’s not the half of it.

Meanwhile, in Fort Myers, a News-Press investigation has raised questions about a local school that receives roughly a quarter of its funds through state scholarships, and inspired an editorial arguing that “the Florida Department of Education should do a better job of protecting consumers of private education.”

In a guest column responding to the News-Press editorial, a state school choice official notes that “there is no legal requirement that private schools be accredited” and that if, hypothetically, “a private school provides inaccurate information as to who is running the school, the department must rely on parents or the surrounding community to expose such misinformation.” That may work for traditional private schools, but what about those that receive taxpayer money intended to help accommodate the disabled and disadvantaged?

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