Longform

McKay scholarship program sparks a cottage industry of fraud and chaos

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"No job, no school, no nothing," Gloria laments. "If you can think of what to do with him now, let me know."

Christopher Vaughn decided it was time to leave South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy — the Oakland Park strip-mall school with the ass-thwacking principal — in his junior year, when a classmate tried to stab his brother with a pen.

It was 2010, and Christopher was 18. He was a sturdily built kid with a hard-fought, scraggly beard and loads of ambition despite having sprouted from tragedy: Mom dead of AIDS, Dad always working, six siblings, raised mostly by a grandmother who was getting eaten by Alzheimer's.

He wanted a college degree. He wanted to start an organization to help kids with rough home lives just like his. Before going to South Florida Prep, he had been a good student at Lauderhill Middle School.

But when Christopher tried to transfer his credits — all As and Bs — from the disastrous private high, they were rejected by the charter Smart School. Then the alternative public school Whiddon-Rogers Education Center turned down his transcript as well. Having made no mistake besides going to the high school his grandmother heard about at church, Christopher faced the prospect of being a freshman again.

"I had to start from scratch," he says. "Everything just went down the drain. I didn't feel like being in school no more."

He hasn't taken the excuse to give up. He's now about five credits from graduating from Whiddon-Rogers.

In October the year that Christopher left South Florida Prep, fire marshals shut down that school. The student body wandered between local parks and churches for a month, before the DOE finally suspended its McKay payments, about four and a half years too late.

Principal Julius Brown was sued by the strip-mall owner for falling behind $55,650 in rent, and he faced three other lawsuits related to the tragic van accident on the trip from Orlando. He does, however, know one way to make some money in a hurry.

In March 2011, Brown and partners incorporated Sunrise College Preparatory School in Orlando. According to its website, classes in grades kindergarten through 12 begin August 29.

Sunrise College Prep is not registered with the state, but Brown clearly has a plan: The school website advertises that it accepts McKay scholarships.

After reaching Brown by phone at his new school, New Times could get in only one question: Planning on paddling kids in your new digs?

"I got nothing to say to you!" he bellowed before hanging up. "South Florida Prep was a long time ago. I've moved on!"

Rich Abdill contributed to this report.

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