In an order kicking the [Sa'Rai and Zigler Upper Excellerated Academy] out of the program, state officials said they noticed in March that student applications submitted by the school appeared to have forged signatures. [. . .] Zigler denied that the school had forged any signatures, calling the state's accusations "a smokescreen" to cover up the fact that "once again, we are a black school being targeted."
Earlier this month, leaders of a half-dozen voucher schools accused the state Department of Public Instruction of targeting black schools for closure, a claim that Deputy State Superintendent Tony Evers says he categorically denies.
After suspecting forgery, department officials asked for the original student applications for the families attending Sa'Rai and Zigler using vouchers. But, according to state officials, the school submitted only 39 out of 90 original student applications, and failed to provide any evidence that it had checked W-2 or other forms to ensure that the families met the income guidelines of the program. To be eligible, family income must not exceed 175% of the poverty level.
State officials allege that, in one case, the school accepted voucher money for a student in a family of three with a total income of $50,900, but the maximum income for a family of three to be eligible in 2005 was less than $29,000.
But Zigler argued that the department decided to give his school the boot to avoid paying Sa'Rai and Zigler $57,000 he claims is overdue.
What's interesting to me--and what could probably have been predicted as the DPI begins to crack down on the schools that are breaking the rules--is the way this is becoming a racial issue. The accusations started at the beginning of this month when DPI cut off Woodson Academy, also for forgery, even though that school had been in the program for more than a decade. (It also had been in trouble off and on for that decade.)
The vast majoity of schools not run by minority personnel or organizations are the religious schools, those run by the archidiocese or the Lutherans. These are long-established schools without as much need to inflate their numbers (considering how many non-voucher students they can draw). They also tend to be run by people with years of experience in school administration and monitored closely by an overseeing organization.
The new schools that have been started, while they definitely fill a void in the community (the need to fund them by shorting MPS is an entirely different question), do not always have the history, the experience, or the oversight behind them. They also don't have a natural base of students who can pay outright instead of needing a voucher. That creates a dangerous situation--whether those schools are run by African Americans or not.
Even back during the discussion of--and eventual passage of--a requirement that all the voucher schools get accreditation, I knew that it would hit the minority-run schools hardest, since almost all of the non-minority-run schools already have accreditation. This fight is only going to get uglier.