School Choice & Charters

No More Vouchers for Florida Islamic School

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 06, 2003 3 min read

A private Islamic school in Tampa, Fla., has been dropped from a state voucher program after it was widely publicized in the Florida media that two men affiliated with the school have been charged with links to terrorism.

The Islamic Academy of Florida received about $300,000 last year through a state program that facilitates privately financed scholarships to allow needy K-12 students to attend private schools, including religious schools. Voucher critics have pounced on the situation to argue that Florida’s corporate-tax- credit voucher program lacks adequate oversight.

In February, a federal grand jury in Tampa charged the two men with conspiracy to commit murder, maim, or injure persons outside of the United States, along with other criminal acts.

According to court documents, Sami Amin Al-Arian, who was the founder and was a board member of the school from its establishment in 1992 until at least June 2002, and Sameeh Hammoudeh, who was the school’s treasurer up until the time of the indictment, were charged with supporting violent attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization that is said to have killed more than 100 people in Israel.

Mr. Al-Arian was also a professor of engineering at the University of South Florida, which terminated his position after the indictment was issued. Both men entered “not guilty” pleas with the court, but they are now in jail, awaiting a trial scheduled to begin Jan. 10, 2005.

Although the federal indictment against the two men and six others was issued in February, Florida PRIDE—one of seven nonprofit organizations in Florida that distribute the tuition aid to low- income families—didn’t remove the Islamic school from its list of schools eligible to receive vouchers until July 18.

Also on July 18, Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne released a statement saying that the Islamic Academy would no longer receive money from any of the state’s voucher programs. The statement noted that the “situation” was being investigated by state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

Mr. Horne also announced state- led forums to discuss accountability for schools participating in voucher programs. The first of those meetings was held last week.

‘Egregious Case’

Last school year, the 220-student school received about $300,000 through vouchers from Florida PRIDE when it enrolled 101 students under the scholarship program, according to Denise Lasher, the spokeswoman for Florida PRIDE. The group’s name stands for Parental Rights in Deciding Education.

In February, after Florida PRIDE learned about the indictment, it hired an independent accountant to audit the school’s financial records. Ms. Lasher said that the auditor found the scholarship money had been spent appropriately. Florida PRIDE decided not to penalize the school.

Ms. Lasher contended that this summer, however, after a local newspaper drew attention to the indictment’s mention of the Islamic school, two state senators exaggerated the situation to such an extent that the negative publicity threatened the health of the whole corporate-tax-break program.

“The program and the children became political pawns,” she said.

To make sure that the controversy didn’t damage the overall voucher program, she said, Florida PRIDE decided it would be wisest to remove the Islamic school from its list.

Officials at the Islamic Academy didn’t respond to a request for comment last week. The state legislators Ms. Lasher referred to are Sens. Ron Klein and Dave Aronberg, both Democrats.

After reading a July 17 article in The Palm Beach Post about the association of the Islamic Academy with the men charged, they asked Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, to halt any voucher money flowing to the school.

Mr. Aronberg said in an interview last week he believes the corporate-backed voucher program is seriously lacking in accountability. “This is probably the most egregious case,” he said. “It looks like our tax dollars are supporting terrorism.”

The Islamic Academy is named in the federal indictment as one of several places that Mr. Al-Arian and Mr. Hammoudeh allegedly used as a cover to raise money and provide support for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the group’s operations in the Middle East. The indictment also alleges that the men caused an employee at the school to tell an unidentified caller who wanted to make a donation to Palestinians to write a check to the school.

Ms. Lasher of Florida PRIDE compared the situation to that of a public school that is found to have an employee who embezzled public money without being detected for some time.

“We don’t shut down the public school system because there are a couple of bad apples in the system,” she said.

Related Tags:

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Full-Time Virtual Schools: Still Growing, Still Struggling, Still Resisting Oversight
Nearly 500,000 students now attend full-time online and blended schools, says a new report from the National Education Policy Center.
6 min read
Student attending class from a remote location.
E+
School Choice & Charters Opinion Is Hybrid Home Schooling the Future of Education?
Rick Hess speaks with Mike McShane about hybrid home schooling, which combines the best of home schooling and traditional schooling.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Oklahoma Charter Schools Granted Local Tax Revenue in 'Seismic' Settlement
A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
School Choice & Charters COVID-19 May Energize Push for School Choice in States. Where That Leads Is Unclear
The pandemic is driving legislators' interest in mechanisms like education savings accounts, but the growth may not be straightforward.
8 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 12 at the statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address to state lawmakers on Jan. 12. She's pushing a major school choice expansion.
Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP