Charter For Fraud?

When ‘School Choice’ Programs Go Awry

Proponents of “educational choice” argue that more options are needed to help children trapped in “failing” public schools. Furthermore, they insist that these options must be loosely regulated, so free-market forces can come into play and bring academic excellence to all.

It sounds good on paper. In real life, it just doesn’t work. Since they lack meaningful oversight, voucher plans and charter schools too often spark fraud and abuse and leave children out in the cold.

In Houston, officials have arrested a minister who ran the now-defunct Prepared Table Charter School. The Rev. Harold W. Wilcox and three of his relatives are accused of misappropriating $3 million in state and federal funds. Some $51,000 in school money allegedly went to help pay for Wilcox’s house. He is also charged with stealing money from the school’s free-breakfast and lunch program funds that were supposed to help poor children.

At the time of his arrest, Wilcox was found in his home, hiding in a false compartment in a closet, along with $3,500 in cash.

Florida has also been having problems with its lightly regulated voucher program. Newspapers there reported that a Christian school in Polk County accepted vouchers for disabled students even though those children had pulled out of the school.

Seven people have been arrested in conjunction with the scandal at Faith Christian Academy. Some of them are accused of raiding the school lunch program and using the cash to buy cars and real estate.

Officials in Wisconsin have kicked two private schools out of that state’s voucher program. The founder of the Mandella School of Science is accused of misusing state funds. The other school, Alex’s Academic of Excellence, failed to meet financial reporting requirements. Amazingly, it was reported four years ago that the head of the “Academic of Excellence” had a criminal record for rape and burglary yet the institution was cut off from state funding only in July.

Finally, there is Ohio. One voucher school there had a convicted murderer on staff. Another school was so run down that the building had no heat or working fire alarms. A third “educated” children by showing them videos all day.

A common thread runs through each of these stories: Instead of helping low-income youngsters, these schools cheated them out of an education. They were aided and abetted in this unpleasant business by state officials brainwashed in voucher ideology.

Vouchers and other privatization schemes might look attractive at first glance. In reality, they have too often failed students. It’s time to shut them down before anyone else falls victim to these scams.

The IRS And Churches

Clergy Shouldn’t Buy Falwell’s Falsehoods

Jerry Falwell has been telling pastors that they can dive into partisan politics. The Internal Revenue Service, he insists, won’t care. The Lynchburg televangelist even distributed a statement by one of his lawyers that says “the IRS has almost no teeth.”

Falwell could not be more wrong and he’s in a position to know. In 1993, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” for the years 1986-87 and made him pay $50,000 back taxes for illegal politicking.

Five years later, the IRS yanked the tax-exempt status of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network for partisan activity also during 1986-87. CBN had to make what was described as a “significant payment” to the IRS.

In New York, the Church at Pierce Creek had its tax exemption removed after it ran newspaper ads in 1992, telling people that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin.

Aside from pulling tax exemption, the IRS can undertake other steps.

A church in Houston underwent a four-year audit after it was accused of improper politicking in 1996. Pastor Floyd Flake in New York City endorsed Al Gore from the pulpit in 2000 and was subsequently visited by IRS agents, who warned him that he had violated the law and required him to sign papers promising not to do it again.

Several black clergy in the Norfolk, Va., area received similar visits from the IRS in 1995. The clergy had been active in a Senate race the year before. They were warned to stop pulpit-based politicking or face loss of tax exemption.

That’s an awful lot of activity surrounding a provision that Falwell says the IRS doesn’t enforce! It sounds like IRS agents have plenty of teeth, and they’re willing to bite when necessary.

The fact is, the IRS does enforce the law in this area. Every election year, the tax agency issues a public statement reminding non-profits not to engage in electioneering. This year, the IRS took the unprecedented step of also writing to the national political parties, urging them not to drag non-profits into partisan politics.

Religious leaders may have legitimate questions about politicking. Rather than listen to Falwell who has run afoul of the law and had to pay for that clergy should get the facts about church politicking from the source that knows the law the best: The IRS. Its website has a section that addresses the issue in clear language: www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=120703,00.html

Falwell is wrong. Read it for yourself.