In June, New Times published a feature exposing rampant fraud and a near-complete absence of oversight in the $150-million-a-year taxpayer-funded McKay scholarship program for disabled children to attend private schools.
One of our readers, it turns out, was Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho. And now South Florida's top education honcho has joined us in calling for legislative reform of the program.
"Regardless of the intent of the program, we've seen very little scrutiny or accountability," Carvalho told Riptide in an interview yesterday. "There has been really horrific abuse."
As uncovered in our investigation, the Department of Education almost never pays site visits to schools receiving millions in McKay payments. And even after administrators are caught defrauding the program, they are usually allowed to continue raking in the voucher payments with little punishment.
The result, unsurprisingly, is an educational horror story: students packed into unsafe buildings, receiving minimal or no education, and in one instance even being paddled, all on the taxpayers' dime.
Lobbying to "beef up accountability" in the McKay program will be on the Miami-Dade school board's agenda when the state legislature convenes early next year, Carvalho says.
Miami-Dade receives more McKay money -- upward of $32 million a year -- than any other county in the state. Much of that goes toward "educating" low-income students with learning disabilities.
"It's heartbreaking," Carvalho says of poor local kids getting fleeced out of an education. "There are so many victims of that abuse: the parents, the students, and of course the taxpayer."
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Carvalho joins a growing number of high-profile voices that have demanded McKay reform since New Times began our investigation. State Sen. Stephen Wise called our findings "appalling" and vowed to push for legislative change.
And even the scholarship's namesake, former Sen. John M. McKay, has called for more oversight, proclaiming, "Somebody better get off their ass and fix those problems."