Low-income private school scholarship misused, critics say

7:28 PM, May 22, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- In 2008, the legislature passed a law providing for a scholarship to benefit low-income public school students, giving them the means to pay tuition in higher-performing private prep schools. 

Critics of the law say it is now used to benefit families of all incomes for private school tuition. 

"And we are in fact getting close to cheating," said Steve Suitts, Vice President of the Southern Education Foundation.

The Southern Education Foundation wrote a report calling it a failed experiment-- but don't tell that to schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy.  

The tiny Snellville school's headmaster says four percent of its students use a state scholarship that critics say was intended for low income students -- but has been used by families of all incomes instead.

"(They) are using this program to subsidize private school tuitions rather than helping low income students," said Suitts.

Critics say abuse of the scholarship extends across the spectrum of private schools.  In fact, they say, the abuse has been encouraged-- by the men who drafted the scholarship into law.

State representative David Casas (R-Gwinnett Co.) is seen on a Youtube video, encouraging parents to enroll their children in a local public school -- then apply for the scholarship, and re-enroll them in the private school they already attend.  

"You just have to enroll him in the public school," Casas says on the video.

"But aren't people going say, that's a scam?" asks the voice of an adult male in the audience, who indicates he's the parent of a private school student.

"That has been. for the last four years, what some parents have had heartburn about," Casas says.  "That is not a loophole, that you are scamming the system."

Suitts disagrees:  "That is not what it was for, and that is a dishonest program."

Suitts says the scholarship has cost taxpayers $143 million since it was enacted four years ago -- and that most of that money has been spent on middle and upper income families. 

The headmaster of Gwinnett Christian Academy, Wyatt Bozeman, says families has his school have played by the rules-- as outlined in the Youtube video by Rep. Casas-- who has not answered our request for comment. 

So is this a scam?  Even its critics acknowledge that if it is, it's hidden in plain sight.

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