Does neglectful oversight of vouchers violate IDEA?

An article published today in the weekly Miami New Times about allegedly fraudulent and dangerous vouchers schools using Florida's McKay voucher program for children with disabilities raises interesting questions about the state's obligations under the federal government's basic special education law. I do not know the veracity of the claims in the article, but if some portion of them is true, it demonstrates an amazing neglect of these students' interests by the state of Florida, and apart from all the other issues related to voucher policies, it makes me wonder whether this violates Florida's obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

A disclaimer here: I am not a lawyer and do not attempt to play one on television. Furthermore, while I am reasonably familiar with the basic structure of federal education law, I am neither expert on the longstanding regulations nor on changes in the last reauthorization (in 2004). But the claims in the Miami New Times are so outrageous that, if true, one could argue that the feds may well need to examine whether the state is failing its statutory obligations. 

Here is the gist of those obligations: to receive money under Part B of IDEA, Florida made certain assurances to the federal government regarding its obligations as the state education agency. This includes the following:

  • The state has an effective child-find provision.
  • An IEP is provided for all eligible children.
  • Students with disabilities are in the least restrictive environment (as close to nondisabled peers as is consistent with a free appropriate public education).
  • Teachers of students with disabilities have the skills necessary to fulfill the state's obligations, including content expertise.
  • All students with disabilities in public education programs are included in the state's assessment program.
  • There will be appropriate financial controls to prevent fraudulent uses of federal IDEA funds.

There are some longstanding questions about IDEA and voucher programs (including the McKay voucher program). I do not know if there is any flow-through funding for McKay (where federal dollars go to the vouchers), but even if there is not a single federal cent in the McKay program, the state still has obligations to children with disabilities. Apart from the miserable conditions described in the article and concerns I have about longstanding double standards in accountability (i.e., in Florida, private vouchers schools are largely unaccountable in voucher programs with histories of fraud), if the article is even partly true, the state has been horribly neglectful in an area where the state has stated otherwise in its IDEA assurances. 

6 responses to “Does neglectful oversight of vouchers violate IDEA?”

  1. Stuart Buck

    Fascinating article.

    I notice the claim that it’s the public schools who are cream-skimming and dumping their bad students into charter and private schools:


    “But sometimes the parasites don’t have to do that much work, because public school administrators do it for them. Beginning a few school years ago, Carol City Senior High social studies teacher Paul Moore was mystified by a new, perennial exodus of his “problem” seniors — students who might fare badly on FCATs. They were kids he usually liked to have one last-ditch shot at improving their studies.

    Eventually, he figured out where many of them had ended up: Parkway Academy in Miramar, a charter school and target in 2009 of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s largest fine — $260,000; later reduced to $118,000 — for dozens of football recruiting violations. Other of Moore’s missing seniors had scattered to private schools, most of them McKay-funded. “It’s an absolute policy in this state now to move at-risk kids to charter or private schools,” Moore says.

    A Plantation High reading teacher, who asked that her name not be used, can relate. She has noticed her “problem” seniors disappearing like never before. Sometimes she runs into them on the street and finds out they’re at Preparatory Zion Academy or someplace similar. “These kids are graduating, but they’re illiterate,” the teacher says. “If you ask me, it’s criminal.”

    The principals of neither Carol City High or Plantation High responded to New Times’ inquiries. Public school brass are loathe to publicly admit to pushing struggling kids toward private schools.

    The illicit practice even has a name: “FCAT cleansing.”

  2. CCPhysicist

    Why bother with the feds? Contact “60 Minutes”. I remember them doing a story about Medicare and Medicade fraud in the Miami area that had as its thesis that it was safer and more lucrative to commit fraud than deal drugs. Based on the people named in that article, it sounds like that thought also guides folks in the business of school fraud.

  3. Bob Calder

    @Stuart: Not that public schools aren’t incentivized to push out students, but if it were widespread the practice would have gotten wider notice. I work at Dillard High which neighbors Plantation High. It is possible that a principal and a special ed guidance person *could* steer students toward a McKay school, but:
    1.) I don’t see how they would actually nudge them out.
    2.) The descriptions given by the teachers seem odd. Paul Moore may be delusional. Last chance students are in a computer lab these days like the kids with reading problems.
    3.) It seems to me that a child on the way out would inform his fellow students and teachers before transferring. At least that’s what they do normally in my classroom.

    The last criticism I have is the fact that one described move was across county lines. That adds another layer of deception and schools can’t move like that. Only parents. I would like to hear a few of these issues cleared up before agreeing with the conclusion you seem to draw. Deliberate and systematic is out of character from what I know.

  4. chemtchr

    Stuart: yes!! The public school administrators are in on it. That’s what the public-private partnership means. Administrators are placed by “reform” advocacy groups (like New Leaders for New Schools), which are partnered with for-profit vendors. “Pupil Services” administrators are the hottest new frontier in for-profit public administration, because the SPED money eventually follows students out of the building, and disappears from public oversight (along with the kids).

    Everybody in the reform industry hopes it will be cleaner than the mess in Florida, but they can’t allow accountability provisions because mainstream education entrepreneurs also need to avoid public exposure of their taxpayer-funded profit engines.

    Even if there is no voucher program, students’ per-diem money follows them when they’re “served” by outside vendors, which can happen inside or outside the district. The public private partnership allows the hands to wash each other.