Florida lawmakers, officials call for reform of private schools that get state scholarships

Source: Beth Kassab, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel, October 25, 2017

Lawmakers, local elected officials and policy experts are calling for reform after an Orlando Sentinel investigation revealed that private schools take nearly $1 billion in state scholarships but have little oversight. The Sentinel series detailed how private schools can submit falsified fire inspections and hire teachers with criminal backgrounds — sometimes without Florida Department of Education officials noticing for years. Sen. David Simmons, a Republican member of the education committee, said he is considering legislation to enact reforms. …

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State revokes Melbourne private school’s scholarships
Source: Beth Kassab and Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel, October 24, 2017

A private school in Melbourne with ties to two other schools already sanctioned by the state will be revoked from Florida’s scholarship programs, the Florida Department of Education said Tuesday. Yakol Christian opened in August with fewer than 20 students, all of them on one of the state’s three scholarship programs that pay nearly $1 billion in private school tuition for children from low-income families or those with a wide range of disabilities. The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that the church that shares the same name and storefront space as the school has ties to a pastor who ran two earlier schools and was charged earlier this year with lewd or lascivious molestation after a 15-year-old student said he improperly touched her. Samuel Vidal, 41, denies the allegations through his attorney and no trial date has been set. …

After student alleges abuse, principal shutters one private school, opens another.
Source: Annie Martin, Leslie Postal and Beth Kassab, October 18, 2017

After Palm Bay Police began investigating principal Samuel Vidal Jr., who was accused last year of lifting the shirt of a 15-year-old student and putting his mouth on her breast, Vidal shut down his private Christian school. But the police investigation didn’t stop Vidal, 41, from winning approval from the Florida Department of Education to open a new private school in Palm Bay and collect nearly $200,000 in state-backed scholarships. And even after Vidal was charged with felony lewd or lascivious molestation, prompting the state to pull scholarships from the second school, it approved yet another school this year with ties to Vidal. The case illustrates just how easy it can be for operators to open private schools with little scrutiny and to benefit from public scholarships in Florida, which runs one of the largest school choice programs in the country. …


Orlando private school with troubled history took millions in state scholarships
Source: Annie Martin, Leslie Postal and Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel, October 18, 2017

Agape Christian Academy took $5.6 million in state-backed scholarships during the past five years as the private school repeatedly violated the few rules that govern Florida’s growing scholarship programs. Former employees, parents, students and public records tell the story of a school that submitted falsified fire safety inspections, hired people with criminal records and didn’t pay some of its teachers — all while relying on state scholarships that pay private school tuition for children from low-income families and those with special needs. …

Florida private schools rake in nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight.
Source: Leslie Postal, Beth Kassab and Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel, October 18, 2017

Private schools in Florida will collect nearly $1 billion in state-backed scholarships this year through a system so weakly regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees, hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health records.  The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.  Another Central Florida school received millions of dollars in scholarships, sometimes called school vouchers, for nearly a decade even though it repeatedly violated program rules, including hiring staff with criminal convictions….