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McKay Scholarship Fraud: Florida Rep. Rick Kriseman Urges Big Changes To Troubled Program

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A movement is growing in Tallahassee to reform the fraud and abuse-plagued McKay Scholarship program following a New Times exposé. Yesterday, state representative Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) took the boldest step yet, recommending specific and widespread changes that would address the program's most serious flaws.

In a letter to the chair of the Florida House's K-20 Innovation Subcommittee, Kriseman wrote: "It is my hope that none of us will ever have to read stories again about scammers and rip-off artists bilking precious dollars that should be spent on educating our most vulnerable children."

Below we've embedded the letter, which contains Kriseman's nine recommendations to overhaul the McKay program. It urges legislation that would:

  • Require mandatory site visits to all new McKay locations. (Currently, the Department of Education is allowed a total of three site visits throughout the state, and the visited schools must be picked at random.)
  • Require DOE-reviewed background checks on all personnel of McKay schools. (The DOE uses an honor system concerning McKay background checks, and several schools have been discovered to have criminals among the administrators.)
  • Require McKay schools to be certified by an accepted accrediting agency. (No accreditation is currently required.)
  • Allow the DOE and local school district officials to investigate McKay schools at will. (Currently, the DOE only investigates after receiving a tip or complaint.)
  • Impose curriculum and textbook requirements.
  • Bar corporal punishment in McKay schools. (New Times exposed one South Florida school where the principal was regularly paddling students. The DOE knew of the abuse but claimed it had no authority to act.)
  • Make defrauding the McKay program an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing. (Most administrators caught defrauding the program have avoided being charged with crimes, and many of them were allowed to continue accepting McKay funds.)
  • Require McKay teachers to be certified by the state.
  • Prohibit schools from receiving further McKay funds if they are being investigated in cases of a "serious nature" or are behind on paying past fines.

It's kind of amazing that such basic measures would constitute a systematic overhaul of the program that last year used $150 million in taxpayer dollars.

But Kriseman's recommendations are already being met by opposition from Republicans. St. Petersburg Rep. Kelli Stargel, the subcommittee chair, expressed support for the fraud-battling aspects of Kriseman's letter but told The Florida Current: "You're dealing with private schools. I wouldn't want to mandate to a private school what their curriculum is going to be."

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