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Charter for fraud?: when 'school choice' programs go awry.

Proponents of "educational choice" argue that more options are needed to help children trapped in "failing" public schools. Furthermore, they insist that these options must be loosely regulated, so free-market forces can come into play and bring academic excellence to all.

It sounds good on paper. In real life, it just doesn't work. Since they lack meaningful oversight, voucher plans and charter schools too often spark fraud and abuse--and leave children out in the cold.

In Houston, officials have arrested a minister who ran the now-defunct Prepared Table Charter School. The Rev. Harold W. Wilcox and three of his relatives are accused of misappropriating $3 million in state and federal funds. Some $51,000 in school money allegedly went to help pay for Wilcox's house. He is also charged with stealing money from the school's free-breakfast and lunch program--funds that were supposed to help poor children.

At the time of his arrest, Wilcox was found in his home, hiding in a false compartment in a closet, along with $3,500 in cash.

Florida has also been having problems with its lightly regulated voucher program. Newspapers there reported that a Christian school in Polk County accepted vouchers for disabled students even though those children had pulled out of the school.

Seven people have been arrested in conjunction with the scandal at Faith Christian Academy. Some of them are accused of raiding the school lunch program and using the cash to buy cars and real estate.

Officials in Wisconsin have kicked two private schools out of that state's voucher program. The founder of the Mandella School of Science is accused of misusing state funds. The other school, Alex's Academic of Excellence, failed to meet financial reporting requirements. Amazingly, it was reported tour years ago that the head of the "Academic of Excellence" had a criminal record for rape and burglary--yet the institution was cut off from state funding only in July.

Finally, there is Ohio. One voucher school there had a convicted murderer on staff. Another school was so run down that the building had no heat or working fire alarms. A third "educated" children by showing them videos all day.

A common thread runs through each of these stories: Instead of helping low-income youngsters, these schools cheated them out of an education. They were aided and abetted in this unpleasant business by state officials brainwashed in voucher ideology.

Vouchers and other privatization schemes might look attractive at first glance. In reality, they have too often failed students. It's time to shut them down before anyone else falls victim to these seams.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Previous Article:Targeting public schools: Religious Right groups are trying a back-door plan to evangelize public school students.
Next Article:The IRS and churches: clergy shouldn't buy Falwell's falsehoods.

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