Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction is indefinitely suspending payments to three voucher schools that are not in compliance with regulations: Bessie M. Gray Preparatory Academy (211 voucher students), Agape Center of Academic Excellence (115 voucher students), Victory Preparatory Academy (48 voucher students).
The people running two of the schools say that the state is being heavy-handed. The state says that it is enforcing the law, and it tends to look like their enforcement is proper, since the schools have had several chances to get into compliance with the law. What does the state require? In general, the schools have to prove that they’re being responsible with the money, by having audits of their financial records and demonstrating that students are learning.
Here’s what the state says happened in the case of Bessie M. Gray school: Proper documentation was not provided for “dozens” of students from the most recent school year and the one prior. The state is requiring the school to repay over $175,000 because of this. If the school can’t provide proper documentation to prove the kids attended, they shouldn’t get the money! (The head of the school says it was too hard to get documentation for the kids! Really? How do other schools do it?)
As for Victory Academy: The state says they didn’t turn over their financial reports, they didn’t repay erroneous overpayments, and they didn’t have their required audit.
And regarding Agape: The school has been under special financial requirements since the state found out about high levels of debts, and the school has failed to file its financial information as required. (The administrator of the school says she sent the reports last week. And that teacher salaries are one pay period behind.)
I love the voucher program. It gives over 19,000 students the chance to attend private schools instead of the failing Milwaukee Public School system. The vouchers carry with them up to $6,501 toward private school tuition, with the amount paid to schools in four installments throughout the year.
But reward does not come without risk. Schools have seen the voucher program as a virtual lottery for them. There is big money to be made in both voucher schools and charter schools, and there have been people taking advantage of the system. There will always be dishonest people trying to cheat the system, but that’s why it’s so important to have controls in place. If the schools don’t follow the rules, they shouldn’t receive the money. Period.