Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports that the school that received the largest number of vouchers in North Carolina—the Greensboro Islamic Academy–is in financial trouble.
“A private religious school receiving by far the largest payout from the state’s new school voucher program was in financial trouble during the last school year, pleading for help from the public online to fund its $150,000 shortfall so the school could complete the 2013-14 school year.
“The Greensboro Islamic Academy is suffering from a scarcity of funds,” said Eesaa Wood, a leader at the school’s parent organization, the Islamic Center of Greensboro, in a YouTube video posted online last January. The school has run a deficit of $150,000 every year, according to the fundraising pitch.
“For over a decade, the Muslim community of Greensboro has paid for this shortfall,” said Wood. “For that we are grateful to Allah…but we can no longer rely exclusively on this system.”
The school is the biggest recipient of all those participating in the state’s new Opportunity Scholarship Program, having already received 43 school vouchers totaling more than $90,000 dollars in public funds.
But as taxpayer money flows into Greensboro Islamic Academy’s coffers, questions arise: will the school be able to sustain itself going forward given the financial difficulties it faces? And if not, what happens to funds that taxpayers have already spent on private, religious education?
Lawmakers enacted a school voucher program last year that pulls approximately $10.8 million dollars away from the public school system to allow students to attend private and religious schools instead.
Proponents of the program say the voucher program is a way to give students better choices when it comes to their education; critics say it siphons badly needed funds away from public education and funnels them into unaccountable, religious private schools that are not obligated to hold themselves to high quality teaching standards.
The state received 170 applications earlier this year from students wishing to attend Greensboro Islamic Academy (GIA) this fall with a school voucher – by far the most popular school chosen among voucher applicants and a very large number considering that the school only accommodated 130 students the previous year.
Since then, a high-profile court battle ensued, resulting in a Superior Court judge finding that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to use public funds only for public schools – but thanks to a Court of Appeals ruling last month, the state must disburse school vouchers that have already been awarded while the case winds its way through the state appellate courts.
In September, the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority awarded 43 vouchers to students attending Greensboro Islamic Academy, totaling more than $90,000 tax dollars– nearly 8 percent of the $1 million+ in school vouchers that were disbursed to 109 private schools so far across the state. The next largest recipient of school voucher funds was Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, which received 26 vouchers totaling $54,600, followed by Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, which received 18 vouchers totaling $37,800.
More voucher funds will be disbursed in the coming weeks, although it’s not clear how much more money, if any, GIA will receive.
According to its fundraising video, Greensboro Islamic Academy is the only full-time Pre-K through 8th grade Islamic private school in the Triad area – and it has struggled with financial obstacles since its inception in 2003.
“Because GIA never turns down any student because of financial need, this has resulted in a $150,000 deficit ever year,” said Islamic Center of Greensboro leader Eesaa Wood in his fundraising plea.
A link on the school’s YouTube fundraising video brings the viewer to a fundraising page that says the school raised only $374 of its $150k goal. Numerous calls and emails to school officials seeking more information about the financial status of Greensboro Islamic Academy, as well as calls to the Islamic Center of Greensboro, the parent organization of GIA, have gone unanswered. Efforts to reach out to the video’s narrator, Eesaa Wood, have also been unsuccessful.
Reached by telephone, GIA school board president Dr. Hatim Mahmoud, a physician practicing in Danville, VA, said he wouldn’t talk about the school with N.C. Policy Watch, despite the fact it now receives taxpayer dollars.
“We don’t talk to reporters. We don’t wanna talk to nobody. Goodbye,” said Mahmoud.
NC Policy Watch is a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.
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