U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, speaking in Wisconsin last Friday, reaffirmed the Bush Administration’s belief that private schools receiving public dollars should not be held accountable to taxpayers. People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) President Ralph G. Neas termed the remarks “stunning.”
In a speech to a voucher lobbying group, Paige was reported by the Associated Press to have made comments explaining that “he doesn’t see the need for more federal oversight of voucher schools.” Neas said the position is particularly hypocritical given that accountability is the supposed linchpin of the Administration’s principal education initiative, “No Child Left Behind.” “This double standard on accountability is bad for students and bad for taxpayers,” said Neas.
“When it comes to voucher schools, this administration has adopted a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach. It’s outrageous,” said Neas. “Every program funded by taxpayer dollars should be subject to oversight – especially the millions of dollars the Bush Administration is funneling to unproven voucher programs, some of which may be more interested in profit than performance. Parents deserve to know whether or not their children are learning, and taxpayers deserve to know whether their money is being put to good use.”
PFAWF has authored numerous reports documenting massive accountability problems in existing voucher programs. These reports are available here .
Inadequate oversight has allowed some disturbing conditions to linger for months or even years at a number of private schools participating in voucher programs. Although voucher schools operate under somewhat different rules in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida, all of the voucher programs in these states have been shown to have accountability problems. For example:
- In Milwaukee, a principal of a voucher school used state voucher money to buy himself two Mercedes-Benz cars. The principal owes the state nearly $330,000 for voucher checks the school should not have cashed. Many of those checks were to educate children who never attended the voucher school.
- In Cleveland, the Islamic Academy of Arts and Sciences accepted $69,000 in voucher payments for students who were not attending the school or had only attended for part of the year. The school was allowed to operate for two years despite the fact that the building had no fire alarm or sprinkler system. Lead-based paint in the school was found at a level eight times higher than considered safe and eight of 12 instructors lacked state teaching licenses.
- James Isenhour, an operator of a Florida voucher school, was recently charged with stealing more than $268,000 in voucher money. Robert Metty, former director of scholarships for the Florida Department of Education explained, “there was no process in place to let us monitor this.”