School Choice: A Charter For Corruption?

The pastor at the center of a Houston charter school scandal was arrested last Thursday along with three family members on charges of misappropriating $3 million in state and federal education funds, reports the Houston Chronicle.

In addition to pocketing money from the federal school lunch and breakfast program for poor children, the Rev. Harold. W. Wilcox is accused of using $51,000 in school funds to make a down payment on a house. FBI agents reportedly found Wilcox hiding in a false compartment in a closet of his home with $3,500 in cash.

The Prepared Table charter school has long been at the center of controversy. After receiving about $2.56 million in federal funds and about $16.76 million in state funds, the school was found to be inflating enrollment. Although this and other scandals had led the Texas legislature to enact stricter standards for charter schools in 2001, many such rules were repealed last year.

"The majority of charter school closings that have occurred nationwide have been because of financial misappropriation," said Luis Huerta, a professor with the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City. In this case, the defendants are accused of using the tax-exempt status of their Greater Progressive Baptist Church to disguise the source of the money. By depositing the money in the church account, they hid its source and evaded taxes, according to the indictment.

The charter school movement has long been held up as a alternative compromise between radical voucher advocates and defenders of traditional public education. If the state is going to transfer its responsibility to educate America's children to private organizations, public officials must take the responsibility to create proper oversight measures to ensure that such scandals do not happen again. Out of respect for church-state separation, religious organizations shouldn't be running publicly funded charter schools at all.  

In every scandal of this kind, the victim is a young child who is deprived of an education because of a politicians' desire to experiment with the educational system.