Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — buoyed by legislators who received hundreds of thousands of dollars of special interest cash — signed into law legislation that would dramatically expand access to school vouchers, which funnel taxpayer dollars into private schools. Scott is doing this despite proposing nearly $3 billion in cuts to public education, meaning that he is essentially transfering money from public education to private education.
On the same day that Scott signed into law his latest attack on public education, Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Miami New Times published a story looking at the case of InterAmerican Christian Academy, a private school located in Doral, Florida. Garcia-Roberts amazingly enrolled at the school and earned a diploma after only eight days of schoolwork and $399:
It began with a poster on a streetlight in downtown Miami: “High School Diploma. (305) 716-0909.” I dialed, and a chipper female voice answered, “Hello. High school.” Eight days and $399 in cash later, at the school’s Doral “campus” — a cramped third-floor office next door to US Lubricant LLC and across the hall from a hair extensions company — I was grinning widely, accepting a framed diploma and an official transcript sporting a 3.41 GPA.
The diplomas that the school is offering are actually getting students admitted to local colleges. The paper found that at “least 88 graduates have used its diplomas and bogus transcripts to gain admittance to Miami Dade College, according to that institution’s registrar.” Remarkably, the state’s Departmenf of Education (DOE), when asked about the school, said that it is powerless to stop it from rewarding diplomas. “If a school like that exists,” said Cherry Etters of the Florida Doe, “we might know about it, but we can’t really do anything.”
As Garcia-Roberts concludes, “There’s no telling how many of Florida’s 1,713 private schools — which educate a third of a million students — are run like InterAmerican. Even as Gov. Rick Scott leads a charge to privatize education on a historic scale, our state’s private schools are among the least regulated in the nation.” Indeed, Florida currently leads the country in “school choice” programs that include tax credits for private schools, voucher programs, and privately managed charter schools. The case of InterAmerican Christian Academy provides a cautionary tale about some of the pitfalls of the proliferation of lightly-regulated or unregulated private schools.