In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities. The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘. It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“. In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations. Not so.
Five years later, another expose has hit the news. The Family Christian Center School in Clermont enrolled 42 special needs children in a program just designed for them. The State of Florida provided $88,200 in extra cash for these children according to the Orlando Sentinel. The money was to pay for services the children did not receive. The principal resigned and the church abruptly filed a defamation suit against her and three parents who complained.
If that is not enough, another private school owner and an administrator of Angels Center for Autism in Orlando were arrested for making $4.6 million in fraudulent Medicaid claims. They billed Medicaid for 8 hours of one on one therapy for students but only provided two hours. The staff needed the money to buy three homes and a dozen cars. The Florida Department of Education stopped funding the school, and the school closed without notice. This is what it is like when you depend upon charters and private schools.
Paying private school tuition directly from the legislature is unconstitutional in Florida. Yet, the State continues to do so for students with disabilities and created a work around with tax credit scholarships for other students. The DOE also provides Personal Learning Accounts as well as McKay and Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. No one wants to go to court against children with physical and mental disadvantages.
The Florida League of Women Voters and the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program that allows corporations to donate the taxes they owe for private school tuition. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case stating that it did not have legal standing. In other words, the court saw no harm being done. The court needs to hear from parents whose children are being harmed by poorly supervised state funded programs offered in private schools. The Clermont example is no doubt one of many.
Maybe the League needs a new study about the services or lack there of for students with disabilities.