Florida has a voucher for program for students with disabilities, called McKay scholarships. A story in Florida’s “Sun-Sentinel” revealed that a sizable number of these students with vouchers attend schools that do not have any full-time teachers with special education training or certification.
Dan Sweeney of the “Sun-Sentinel” writes:
“Learning disabled students can get up to $19,829 of taxpayer money each year to attend private school if they choose – but there is no state accountability to ensure the kids’ needs are being met.
“The law that created the vouchers does not require private schools to have anyone on staff with any sort of certification in dealing with children with learning disabilities. Nor are there public controls in place to check whether the schools are helping them.
“In Palm Beach County, 1,232 children receive $8.5 million in state voucher money. How much they get depends on on the severity of their disabilities, with amounts ranging from $4,125 to $19,829.
“There are 59 private schools in the county that accept the vouchers – and at least 28 of them don’t have full-time special education teachers.
“If someone wants to pay for a school that has no standards out of their own pocket, they’re free to do that. This is America,” said Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, an organization that advocates for public education in the state of Florida. “But when you’re taking public dollars and you’re putting them into these private schools that are not regulated and have no obligation to meet the same standards that we impose on our public schools, that’s when the public should become concerned.”
And Sweeney adds:
“The voucher law only requires that private school teachers pass a background check and have a bachelor’s degree and three years of teaching experience or “special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught.”
“There is no limit on how many students can receive the McKay scholarship – it is solely based on need.
“To qualify, kids need to be on an Individual Education Plan, which sets educational goals for a child and allows for specialized instruction.
“But “once the family leaves the district on a McKay scholarship to a private school, the [plan] is no longer valid. Private schools are not required to follow the [plan] created by district personnel,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.
“And nobody from the state or district checks to see if the children’s’ needs are being met.”
This is not the first time that a reporter has called attention to the bsence of oversight or regulation of the McKay scholarship program.
In 2011, reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts wrote a blistering exposé of the program, which he called “a cottage industry of fraud and chaos,” sending millions of public dollars to voucher schools that lacked curriculum or qualified staff. Garcia-Roberts won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service journalism for the story. But the McKay program continues to be unregulated, unsupervised, and one in which public funds follow students to schools un equipped to meet their needs.