Now we have further troubling evidence connecting a failed voucher school in Wisconsin to the special needs voucher boondoggle in Florida.
Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story on Janaury 14: Milwaukee voucher school LifeSkills Academy closes ‘in the dead of the night’. LifeSkills Academy had 66 voucher-funded students when it closed down overnight; only one of those students was proficient in reading and math. The students ended up at other schools, but, as the article reported, “The DPI is not able to recoup public money spent by voucher schools that do not finish the year.”
The depth of dysfunction at LifeSkills Academy was laid bare by a parent review on the GreatSchools.com site in 2013. According to the parent:
This is among the worst schools I have ever seen. Poor administrative leadership and accountability, low morale, extreme unprofessionalism, the lack of organizational structure, scarce resources, low teacher creativity, loose student environment, and low faculty talent are just some of the reasons why this school is not only a scam but it perpetuates the issues our city is experiencing with juvenile delinquency, student illiteracy, and dismantling any hope that any attending student might have for being successful. I quickly corrected a mistake that I made for allowing my son to attend this “school” when I saw that he never had homework and his text book was photocopied, 3 grade levels below, and published in the late 1980’s. This school is run like a small family church and not like an academic institution.
In a follow-up article, the Journal Sentinel trailed the proprietors of the failed LifeSkills Academy: Leaders of closed Milwaukee voucher school are now in Florida. According to the subsequent story, “Records show Taron and Rodney Monroe started a new private Christian school this year in Daytona Beach. While the school in Milwaukee was running on fumes, they were telling Florida friends they had experience getting government grants for religious schools.” The new school was also named LifeSkills Academy.
Stop Special Needs Vouchers has learned that the new iteration of LifeSkills Academy in Florida did indeed succeed in qualifying as a voucher school, for Florida’s McKay special needs voucher program. On a directory of McKay scholarship program private schools on the Florida Department of Education web site, LifeSkills Academy is listed as a McKay school in the Volusia school district, serving disability-types of Emotional/Behavioral Disability, Specific Learning Disability, Gifted, and Intellectual Disability.
The idea of such a school simply declaring themselves as expert in special education should send shivers down the spine of every parent of a student with disability-related educational needs.
The scandal of LifeSkills Academy voucher school, both in Wisconsin and Florida, must serve as a vivid warning for our state, as voucher expansion plans continue to surface in our state legislature. The voucher experiment is riddled with failure and fraud. We cannot allow special needs vouchers to multiply the damage in Wisconsin.
— Joanne Juhnke
Chair, Stop Special Needs Vouchers steering committee