St. Petersburg lawmaker wants better oversight over McKay vouchers
State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, wants the state to exercise more oversight over the McKay voucher program for students with disabilities. Here's the letter he sent today to Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who chairs the House K-20 Innovation Subcommittee:
Thank you for challenging the members of the K-20 Innovation Subcommittee to offer suggestions to bring more accountability to the John M. McKay Scholarship program.
Along with several subcommittee members, I am troubled by news accounts detailing cases of abuse and fraud due to an apparent lack of accountability in this voucher program. The Legislature must do everything it can to make sure that children who receive McKay Scholarships to attend private schools get the highest quality education possible.
On behalf of Democrats on the Subcommittee, I would like to make several suggestions. The goal is to make sure that every dollar available from this remarkable program goes to providing these students the education they deserve.
These suggestions are meant as a starting point for discussions. By bringing more accountability to this program, it is my hope that none of us will ever have to read stories again about scammers and rip-off artists bilking precious dollars that should be spent on educating our most vulnerable children.
I look forward to working with you in drafting legislation to address these issues and any others that may be necessary to safeguard students with disabilities.
Rep. Rick Kriseman
McKay Scholarship program issues to address:
· Mandatory site inspections of facilities private providers intend to use when applying for McKay Scholarship eligibility. Private providers should be required to notify the Department of Education prior to leaving an existing facility for another one, and the state should be required to conduct a mandatory site inspection of the new facility within 30 days of being notified.
· Require the Department of Education to review and sign off on all criminal background checks of personnel in private facilities seeking or receiving McKay Scholarship funds. Providers should have to produce within 30 days background checks on any newly hired personnel or personnel promoted from positions that did not previously require background checks.
· Require all schools accepting McKay Scholarship funds to obtain AdvancED certification or similar accreditation.
· Give the Department of Education and local school districts power to self-initiate investigations when inspectors or district officials have reasonable cause to suspect violations have or are occurring at a facility. This could allow investigations of incidents of abuse to begin prior to the state receiving a tip or complaint from a third party.
· All schools accepting McKay Scholarship funds should be required to meet state-approved minimum curriculum standards. The state should review and approve the textbooks and instructional materials private providers use to educate McKay Scholarship students.
· Schools that accept McKay Scholarship funds should be prohibited from using corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool.
· The Legislature should enhance criminal penalties by making fraud convictions under the McKay Scholarship program an aggravating factor for sentencing.
· Teachers in any school accepting McKay Scholarship funds should have a state teaching certificate.
· Prohibit schools from receiving further McKay funds if fines from old cases are delinquent or pending cases of a serious nature are pending