Since I once made a living sitting at a typewriter pounding out articles for publication, I probably have paid more attention to the decline of newspapers than most.
Unfortunately as the internet ravaged newspaper advertising, reporters became fewer and fewer and what used to be considered “investigative reporting” fell victim. There are simply not enough warm bodies with enough time to spend weeks digging into a particular topic. The public is the loser in this case.
Against this background, when I do happen upon some old-fashioned, sure enough digging and digging reporting, I pay attention.
And here is a fine example of what I’m talking about.
The Orlando Sentinel recently completed a series of articles taking a hard look at Florida’s school voucher program. The link I’ve just given you is a commentary by Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell about this reporting. This will take you to the entire series.
Here are comments by Maxwell:
The “Schools without Rules” series exposed scores of problems at these publicly funded schools — everything from forged safety reports to a school run by a pastor accused of lewd or lascivious molestation.
Just as importantly, it exposed a wicked hypocrisy among politicians who scream for “accountability” for public schools but let anything go when your tax dollars are whisked away to private ones.
This little-regulated system needs an overhaul. And the world needs more real journalists.
Among the findings from reporters Beth Kassab, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin:
Teachers without certification or even college degrees.
Forged documents: Schools faked up clean bills of health from fire departments, which had found safety problems. Even after the schools were caught, state officials let them remain open.
Shady hirings: Two teachers worked at voucher schools (the state calls them “scholarship” schools) after being fired from public schools for having porn on their school computers.
Alleged crime: At one school for special-needs kids, suspicions of impropriety — among parents and even a teacher — continued until authorities arrested the school owner, accusing her of stealing more than $4 million in Medicaid funds.
Troubling finances and learning environments: Two school were evicted from their locations for nonpayment of rent while the school year was still going on. Another shared office-suite space with a bail bondsman.
State officials aren’t looking for problems for a simple reason: They don’t want to find them.
That way, they can keep dumping on public schools — bogging them down with tests, regulations and calling them “failure factories” while turning intentionally blind eyes to problems in the voucher schools.
And yes, it’s all public money. They can call the vouchers “scholarships” or “dandelions” for all I care. Or argue that many “scholarships” are paid with corporate-tax contributions redirected to schools. But much of it is direct tax dollars, and it’s all public.
Editor’s note: The largest scholarship granting organization (SGO) in Florida is Step Up For Students. This organization also manages Alabama’s largest SGO, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.