What could be better than using tax dollars to fund fundamentalist church schools for the urban poor? How about dollar-for-dollar tax breaks for corporations to fund fundamentalist church schools for the urban poor? From the Palm Beach Post on Florida's latest corporate welfare voucher scam:
James K. Isenhour took more than $268,000 from a Florida school voucher program without providing a single voucher for the low-income students who were supposed to benefit. How could he do that without being sent to prison? He had a lot of help from Jeb Bush.
A jury found Mr. Isenhour guilty in 2005, but last week a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach threw out the conviction. Why? Because the Legislature, at former Gov. Bush's insistence, imposed so few rules on voucher schools that taking the money and failing to educate kids with it wasn't against the law.
The state should appeal the decision to throw out Mr. Isenhour's conviction. Even if that doesn't happen, the state should learn the most obvious lesson from the ruling: Don't expand voucher programs that are subject to this sort of abuse.
The programs at issue are so-called "corporate vouchers" because they are financed by donations from corporations that then get a dollar-for-dollar tax break on their state corporate income tax. Mr. Isenhour, who ran a failed correspondence school in Ocala, shows how the scheme puts Florida in an impossible Catch-22.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court struck down vouchers paid for from the state treasury. But voucher advocates insist that the corporate vouchers are constitutional because the money doesn't come directly out of the state treasury. They want to pay for even more vouchers that way.
If corporate vouchers are to continue, the state obviously would need to be sure that there are enough safeguards to prevent theft. But the more safeguards the state puts on the money, the more the money looks as if it belongs to the state and spending it on vouchers would be unconstitutional.
The Legislature in 2006 enacted a few weak accountability measures for corporate vouchers. It's not at all clear that they would be enough to secure a conviction in another case like Mr. Isenhour's.
Voucher opponents had held off on filing lawsuits to challenge corporate vouchers in deference to more important education issues, such as teacher pay, academic standards and the class-size amendment. But the Isenhour case could turn the corporate voucher program, which could cost the state more than $88 million this year, into a piggy bank for unscrupulous private school operators. Either the courts or the Legislature needs to shut down this school for scammers.