Dereliction of Duty


Appendix A—Continuing Investigations of Florida's Voucher Programs

In 2003, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Tom Gallagher, and the Department of Financial Services conducted an audit of the state’s three voucher programs. The agency published two audit reports in December 2003 that offered a blistering criticism of the voucher programs and of the Department of Education’s inept leadership. Based on findings from the audit, the agency commenced several investigations, some even criminal. Details of the investigations are highlighted below:

  • The state’s largest scholarship funding organization, FloridaChild, is under a criminal investigation for financial mismanagement. The group is accused of illegally charging parents a $15 application processing fee, accepting millions of dollars in transfers from other voucher groups, and soliciting a two percent donation from the private schools that received vouchers, among other irregularities.91 The organization recently quit the voucher funding business.92
  • A home-school consultant from Boynton Beach allegedly received more than $54,000 in voucher funds for providing parents with administrative help. Parents complained that the consultant wanted between 30 and 50 percent of a McKay voucher for such assistance.93
  • Heritage Schools of Opa-locka, receiving all three types of state vouchers, are being investigated for keeping voucher money even after students returned to public schools.94
  • According to the Palm Beach Post, Faith Academy of Bartow, which enrolls 56 voucher students, is also under investigation.95
  • Gallagher is also conducting an investigation of Florida’s virtual school program, under which the Department of Education illegally permitted the enrollment of kindergarten and first-grade students who had not attended public school the year before.96
  • In January 2004, an investigation by Gallagher lead to the arrest of James Isenhour, the operator of Silver Archer Foundation, a scholarship funding group. Isenhour was charged with stealing more than $268,000 in voucher money. The money was used to pay Isenhour’s other companies, his bankruptcy lawyers, and himself.97

Appendix B—Florida's Voucher Hall of Shame

Whenever public funds become readily available with little or no oversight as to how this money can be used, abuse and neglect are almost sure to follow. Here are selected highlights from two of Florida’s failing voucher programs:

Corporate Tuition Tax Credit Vouchers—

  • FloridaChild is the largest scholarship funding organization in the state’s corporate tax credit program, accounting for nearly half of the tuition vouchers distributed in 2003. The organization used a $5.2 million line of credit to pay for vouchers, accepted millions of dollars in transfers from other scholarship funding organizations, and asked for a two percent donation from voucher schools to pay for administrative and overhead costs. None of these provisions are authorized by law.98 The group recently quit the voucher funding business.
  • Silver Archer Foundation, a scholarship funding group created by the operator of a bankrupt correspondence school, is unable to account for $400,000 that was supposed to provide students with vouchers. The company’s chief, James Isenhour, filed for personal bankruptcy in 2000. In 2003, he filed bankruptcy papers for his correspondence school, Cambridge Academy, which is conveniently located next door to Silver Archer Foundation. Court records show that Isenhour used tens of thousands of voucher dollars to bail out Cambridge Academy and even persuaded a federal judge to let him collect a $52,000 salary per year from voucher funds.99. In January 2004, Isenhour was charged with grand theft for stealing more than $268,000 in voucher money.100

McKay Vouchers—

  • According to a Palm Beach Post investigation, 77 percent of private schools accepting McKay vouchers to educate student with disabilities do not offer special classes or services for such students. Of 641 private schools accepting McKay voucher students, 496 reported to the state Department of Education that they do not offer classes “specifically designed to meet the needs of children with exceptionalities.”101
  • Middlemen and “consultants” have charged parents large commissions to provide them with administrative and enrollment support for their children using vouchers. Last year, a Boynton Beach homeschool consultant received more than $54,000 in voucher funds for providing parents with administrative help. Parents complained that the consultant wanted between 30 and 50 percent of a McKay voucher for such help.102
  • In some instances, McKay vouchers have allowed students to continue attending a private school at the state’s expense even when the disability no longer exists. For example, a Pinellas county student who broke a leg in the spring has been permitted to use McKay voucher six months later. In fact, he or she not only used the voucher during recuperation, but under the voucher law, may remain in the private school until graduation.103
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