Choice Preparatory School, Football "Diploma Mill", Gets More Taxpayer Dollars

Choice Preparatory School was banned from sports competition last year after an investigator for the state athletic athletic association found no evidence of classes taking place there.

Its director has been involved in two schools found to have defrauded the Department of Education of funds earmarked for kids with disabilities. Hell, even South Florida Prep's former principal called it a "diploma mill".

There has been every indication that this school is not making good use of state education funds. Yet last month, the Department of Education dutifully sent it a check for almost $40,000 from the McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program for the new school year.

Since 2007, the department has blindly thrown $1.66 million in taxpayer-funded McKay money at the troubled school, while never paying it a single site visit.

Last week, House Democrats grilled Department of Education honcho Michael Kooi on the woeful lack of oversight in the McKay program he's in charge of. Part of a growing movement to reform McKay rules in the upcoming legislation, the representatives cited a July New Times feature which exposed disastrous flaws in the management of a fund that doled out $150 million last year.

"I read the article in the New Times, and I was frankly furious [that] the state paid these fraudsters," said Rep. Marty Kiar, a Democrat from Davie. "That means that money given to these fraudsters is now not able to be used for children who really need it."

Change can't come fast enough. New Times exposed Choice Preparatory School in July. The academy, run out of a tiny Goulds park building by notorious football recruiter Antron Wright, was barred from sports competition after a Florida High School Athletic Association investigator paid a visit and in lieu of classes, found students milling around and watching television in a gymnasium.

Choice Prep spawned another school, Choice Learning Academy. In 2007 and 2008, both schools were busted defrauding the McKay program through identical schemes involving apparent forgery. They both repaid the money and were allowed to stay in business. (Choice Learning Academy has changed its name to Center of Life Academy.)

Choice Prep ended last school year amid furor over diplomas which students claimed weren't accepted by local community colleges. It administrators had allegedly bounced checks all around town, and it was no longer welcome at its park location.

But this year, it moved to a new location: 17755 Homestead Avenue. On September 1, the DOE sent Choice $39,990.25 to pay tuition for 24 McKay students.

And despite being banned from competition, the school has been using the name Choice Learning Academy to play games in football, basketball, and even volleyball, as evidenced by their MaxPreps pages. Note the address: 17755 Homestead Avenue.

FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing confirmed that the schools playing Choice Prep-- including Hialeah's Horeb Christian and Miami's Northwest Christian-- "are in violation of the association's rules."

Yesterday, Riptide paid a visit to the school's new digs, a small, unmarked office unit in a dingy yellow complex. Derrick Williams, the school's director, refused to answer our questions about the school.

Asked about fielding sports teams despite being barred from competition, the big, round-bellied Williams shot back: "I don't know what you're talking about. You don't know what you're talking about."

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Gus Garcia-Roberts

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