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Intersection: Schools Without Rules

Classroom desks
Christopher Sessums

Florida’s scholarship programs will send nearly a billion dollars to private schools this year. The Orlando Sentinel spent months reporting on those scholarship programs for their investigation Schools Without Rules.  

Beth Kassab, enterprise editor for the Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal, who covers K-12 education, and Annie Martin, who covers higher education, joined Intersection to talk about their reporting.

Kassab said that unlike public or charter schools, private schools do not have to follow Florida's academic standards.

For example, private schools do not have to hire teachers with a bachelors degree or a teaching certificate given by the state of Florida.

"We found a number of instances where people without degrees are teaching kids," said Kassab.

"The statutes are very explicit that the state of Florida does not want to regulate in these private schools that are participating in these scholarship programs."

One of the schools featured in the Sentinel investigation is Agape Christian Academy in Pine Hills, which was removed from the scholarship program last summer.

Martin said Agape was removed because it did not meet the terms of a settlement agreement it had signed in 2016.

"Basically the settlement agreement allowed the school to continue taking the scholarship funds after the school was revoked in early 2016 because the D.O.E. said that they falsified fire inspections," said Martin.

"Having an annual fire inspection is one of the requirements to participate in these programs."

Postal said they read more than 80 complaints made by parents about private schools to the department of education.

"If the complaint was about academics there really wasn't anything the department did," Postal said.

Kassab said the department of education can only inspect 10 private schools a year, and they can inspect more if they have a history of problems.

She said just last year the department of education only inspected 22 schools.

"22 out of 2,000 schools, and former senator McKay said simply,'That is not enough'," said Kassab.

Education reporting on 90.7 is supported in part by Helios Education Foundation.