In 1997, an independent auditor contracted by the state to evaluate the Cleveland voucher 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.31 The January, 1999 audit found $419,000 in over-billing by taxi companies since 1997, largely due to companies billing for absent students.32
Beginning in 1999, the Cleveland Municipal School District was responsible for providing transportation to all voucher students, without any additional funding from the district. Whereas public school students are concentrated in smaller areas (allowing the district to take advantage of economies of scale and transport more children for less money), voucher students and their schools are scattered across the city, resulting in higher transportation costs. Moreover, voucher schools operate on different schedules than public schools, making it impractical to use regular public school bus routes to transport voucher students, and resulting in more overtime pay for drivers on days when the private schools operate but public schools do not, such as public school holidays and teacher planning days. In addition, some voucher students’ homes are too remote to be served efficiently by buses, forcing the Cleveland Municipal School District to pay an estimated $1,200-$1,800 per pupil per year to transport them by taxi.33 In all, $12 million is spent annually to transport nonpublic school students around Cleveland.34
A loophole in state regulations allowed five schools to collect about $1 million in vouchers prior to completing their applications processes, resulting in schools operating with serious fire code violations and health hazards, inadequate curricula and unqualified teachers. Three of the five schools were still participating in the voucher program as of December 1999.35 By mid-2001, these three schools had been converted into charter schools or were in the process of getting chartered.36
The Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences was one of the five schools 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. State officials acknowledged oversight problems only after learning about school conditions from a Cleveland Plain Dealer article.37
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 failed to attend the Academy at all or did so for only part of the school year. Many of these students actually 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.38
IASAS officially closed its operations at the end of the 1998-99 school year.39 State Auditor Jim Petro indicated that the state had been unable to locate the school owners and hold them accountable for restitution of nearly $70,000. However, by early 2000, a group of anonymous voucher supporters repaid the entire amount—plus an additional $11,000 in unpaid utility bills incurred by IASAS—to the Ohio Department of Education.40
Serious problems of safety and an inadequate educational program were also 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 Ohio Department of Education considered the lessons inadequate. The school also lacked a fire safety certificate, students’ immunization records, and posted emergency procedures. These problems were compounded by exposed electrical wiring found in the gym. Nevertheless, the school was allowed to remain in the program while it addressed these issues.41 Golden State’s voucher privileges were finally revoked for gross non-compliance as the school was beginning its third year in the program.42
Hope Central Academy, owned by voucher entrepreneur David Brennan,43 was found to have disciplined some 8- and 9-year old students by tying their hands behind their backs with tape, handing out in-class suspensions, and making at least one second-grader wear a paper bag over his head as punishment.44 None of these actions conformed to state disciplinary rules.