McKay Scholarship Fraud: Here Is Perhaps The Most Backwards Piece of Legislation in Florida

A warning to taxpayers: Never read Florida statute before bed. You may wake up in a cold sweat.

Last month, New Times published a lengthy exposé on the McKay Scholarship program, a nine-figure state fund that is supposed to help disabled kids get specialized schooling but has been hijacked by bogus educators and fraudsters.

We're currently reporting another story, which will be published next week, about an especially troubled school in Miami-Dade County.

What's ruining a potentially great program is an egregious lack of oversight. And there's one passage in the Florida statute concerning McKay that keeps us up at night with its cold, backwards-ass stupidity. In a state of legendarily bad laws, this might be the worst.

Behold, statute 1002.39(f)1: 

Conduct random site visits to private schools participating in the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. The purpose of the site visits is solely to verify the information reported by the schools concerning the enrollment and attendance of students, the credentials of teachers, background screening of teachers, and teachers' fingerprinting results, which information is required by rules of the State Board of Education, subsection (8), and s. 1002.421. The Department of Education may not make more than three random site visits each year and may not make more than one random site visit each year to the same private school.

The bolding is ours. If you didn't catch all that, the law means that the DOE can pay only three random site visits to McKay schools per year, total.

There are 1,013 McKay schools in Florida.

Is it any wonder that the McKay program is routinely fleeced by schools in nomadic, dangerous, or non-existent school buildings? That legislation practically guarantees such fraud. "That statute was a huge limitation," says former DOE investigator Seth Stoughton, who used to drive by schools just to check that they existed-- a possible violation of that law. "It's totally backwards. I don't know who it's protecting, but it's not helping the state of Florida."

"That would be a question for the legislature," Jean Miller, the deputy executive director of the DOE's Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, deflected when we tried to discuss that law in a recent interview. "They make the rules."

Sen. Stephen R. Wise, who called our McKay findings "appalling" and vowed to change legislation, didn't get back to us yesterday. Neither did the program's namesake, former Senate President John M. Mckay.

If there's one aspect of the McKay legislation to change immediately, it's this one.

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Gus Garcia-Roberts