An independent auditor contracted by the state to evaluate the program found almost $2 million in questionable expenses for the first year. $1.4 million of this was spent on taxis for voucher students at a cost of $15-$18 per student per day, as opposed to the average cost of a school bus at $3.33 per day.28 The January, 1999 audit found $419,000 in over-billing by taxi companies since 1997, largely due to companies billing for absent students.29
A loophole in state regulations allowed 5 schools to collect about $1 million in vouchers prior to completing their applications processes, resulting in schools with serious fire code violations and health hazards, inadequate curricula and unqualified teachers. Three of the five schools remain in the voucher program as of December 1999.30
The Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences was allowed to operate for two years despite the fact that the 110-year old building had no fire alarm or sprinkler system and was under a "fire watch," requiring staff to check for fires every 30 minutes. Lead-based paint in the school, which can cause brain damage in children, was found to contain lead at a level eight times greater than considered safe by health officials. Eight of the 12 instructors lacked state teaching licenses, and one had been convicted of first-degree murder in a 1964 shooting. Because the school did not give state assessments, there is no way to compare academic performance, but enrollment dropped by 35 percent in the 1998-99 school year. State officials acknowledged oversight problems only after learning about school conditions from a Cleveland Plain Dealer article.31
The Ohio State Auditor subsequently released an audit of the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences, issuing a finding for recovery of more than $69,000 against the school for having accepted voucher payments for students who were not attending the school, or who had only attended for part of the year. In 1999 alone, over half (32 of 56) of the students for whom the school received voucher payments did not attend the Academy at all or did so for only part of the school year. Many of these students in actuality attended the Cleveland public schools for some or all of that year.
The audit also reported that the school would not initially provide student files to the state, and when it finally did comply, the information had been deliberately falsified to mask the fact that some voucher students had never attended the school: "[I]t appeared that report cards provided for students who we had identified as having attended the Cleveland City School District were duplicates of other report cards for students who did attend the IASAS, the difference being the names were altered." Other findings include the school's failing to comply with health, fire code and safety standards.32
Serious problems of safety and inadequate educational program were revealed at the Golden Christian Academy in 1999. Led by an unpaid director, the academy is a parent-run "video school." Students sit in front of a television and watch recorded lessons given by an on-screen teacher. The video lessons and workbooks are produced by the Pensacola Christian Academy, which features "a faculty of master [video] teachers that are dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education." The school also lacked a fire safety certificate, students' immunization records, and posted emergency procedures; while exposed electrical wiring was found in the gym. Nevertheless, the school remains in the program while it addresses these issues.33
Hope Central Academy, owned by voucher entrepreneur David Brennan,35 was found to have disciplined some 8- and 9-year old students by tying their hands behind their backs with tape in an in-class suspension, and made at least one second-grader wear a paper bag over his head as punishment.35