State School Voucher Program

Authorities say seven employees of a central Florida Christian school are under arrest for ripping off the state’s school voucher program. It’s just the latest in a series of reports of abuses in the School Voucher Program and Florida’s chief financial officer is now blasting the Education Department for not doing enough to prevent fraud in the first place.

Private school officials around Florida cringe every time there’s a new report of abuse of the state’s School Voucher Program.

Metropolitan Christian School director Mary Clayton says it made her sick when she heard about the arrests of seven people accused of fraud at a Christian school near Tampa.

“It just hurts me so deeply because they do tend to make it bad for the many good schools that are out there,” she says.

Florida’s chief financial officer is frustrated too. He’s been calling for tougher accountability measures in the state’s voucher system since last year, but Tom Gallagher says lawmakers dropped the ball and the state Department of Education isn’t living up to its responsibilities either.

“We take it for granted that they have reforms in place and they’re doing a good job and periodically, like we have here, we found out that they didn’t. That is a concern,” says Gallagher.

We asked the state Department of Education how parents can still have confidence in a system that seems so ripe for abuse. Spokeswoman Frances Marine insists reforms already in place are working.

“For instance, verifying data. Any time a parent complaint is raised, which in this case it was, we immediately look into it. If it looks like any rules were broken we refer it to our inspector general,” she says.

But even private school directors like Mary Clayton say it may not be enough. Now, Florida’s chief financial officer is stepping up the call for additional reforms to make sure voucher money gets to students it’s supposed to help.

Education officials say only a small percentage of schools utilizing the voucher programs has had problems.