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Voucher tales from the Sunshine State

A hearing on the lawsuit challenging Indiana's new voucher law is just over a week away, so it's a good time to review how voucher programs are faring elsewhere. Here's an example from Florida, where an investigation uncovered a "billion-dollar educational catastrophe."

"Students who receive the John M. McKay Scholarship for disabled students are taught in public parks or not at all," according to an investigation by the Miami New Times. "Administrators and teachers at schools given millions by the program have rap sheets that include cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary. Kids in these schools are even sometimes paddled, a tactic outlawed in most Florida counties. Fraud is rampant."

The newspaper's investigation has prompted a Florida Democrat, Rep. Rick Kriseman, to propose regular site visits to the schools and background checks for faculty. The investigation found a "McKay-funded cottage industry of fly-by-night schools operating in storefronts, churches, and dingy homes. Students spent entire school days filling out workbooks or hanging out in a gymnasium watching television. One class — which an Oakland Park principal had the gall to call "business management" — consisted of shaking cans on street corners."

Following the report, Florida's Department of Education investigated 38 McKay-funded schools and substantiated fraud in 25 of the schools, which had accepted $50 million in taxpayer-funded voucher payments.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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