Jimmy Kilpatrick over at Education News linked to this blog, when he meant to link to this story.
Then, an organization calling themselves Citizens Alliance to Uphold Special Education, CAUSE posted this entry on their site without attribution to me. CAUSE is the Parent Training Information Center for the State of Michigan. CAUSE is a statewide non-profit coalition providing free information, referral, support, advocacy, and workshops to parents and professionals working with children with disabilities and special needs.
Florida instituted a school voucher program, called the "McKay Voucher Program", which was designed to help low-income families get a good education for disabled kids. But there's always someone ready to benefit from a benign system. One of the key architects of the McKay law is the head of a school, the Dyslexia Research Institute, that not only recieves funds but is benefittting mightily from a new change in the law. Patricia Hardman then re-rigged the law so that the original provision, that the voucher was accepted as the full value of the tuition, was overturned. This change was done with such stealth that many politico voucher-watchers--not parents--didn't notice the chagne.
The Dyslexia Research Institute looks good and sounds good on paper and the web. However the teaching method in the school is proprietary ("The Hardman Technique"), and I could not find a description of, or any evidentiary base for the efficacy of this technique. The school is not accredited in Florida.
Hartman's credentials are not uniformly admired. Judge P. Michael Ruff (in a different educational hearing) criticized Hardman's credentials: "Dr. Hardman does not have a degree in psychology, is not certified or licensed in Florida or any other state as a psychologist, is not currently certified as a teacher in Florida or any other state, and holds no certificate in the area of special education in Florida or any other state."
Oh, and did I mention that all students are required to be tested--a $550.00 cost--by Hardman and Associates, the school's for-profit arm? (Many independent schools require tests, but no independant school that I know of has a for-profit testing wing.) There is no data available on the website about the childrens' average progress, or their future.
When Tammy Jackson [a voucher parent] complained to Hardman that she couldn't afford a $2,500 tuition increase and that it wasn't fair to expel Jarvis in the middle of a school year, "Dr. Hardman said, 'We frankly don't care. This is a business,' " Jackson said.
First article on Hardman's antics, by S. V. Date, April 12, 2004
By S.V. Date, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Monday, April 12, 2004
TALLAHASSEE -- Private school director Patricia Hardman has sold Florida lawmakers on her expertise regarding McKay school vouchers, convincing Republican leaders that disabled children need neither accredited schools nor certified special education teachers.
A key architect of the law that created the McKay vouchers, which are for disabled students, she wasn't as successful convincing an administrative law judge of her expertise three years ago.
In a case involving an appeal of Leon County School District's handling of a learning disabled student, the judge criticized Hardman's qualifications when she testified on behalf of the girl as an expert witness. Hardman, who runs a for-profit educational consulting service in conjunction with her nonprofit Dyslexia Research Institute, testified that the girl suffered from "arithmetic dyscalculia," a condition she said was related to dyslexia.
Judge P. Michael Ruff cited testimony by the district's experts when he decided that it wasn't proven that any such malady exists. Ruff then criticized Hardman's credentials: "Dr. Hardman does not have a degree in psychology, is not certified or licensed in Florida or any other state as a psychologist, is not currently certified as a teacher in Florida or any other state, and holds no certificate in the area of special education in Florida or any other state," Ruff wrote.
Hardman said Thursday that she did not remember details of the case. "That's neither here nor there," she said. "The judge is entitled to his opinion."
Hardman influenced the original McKay law, passed in 1999, through her friendship with former Senate President John McKay, after whom it was named. Then, early last year, McKay recommended she serve on current Senate President Jim King's task force to study reports of abuse in the program.
"She is earnest, dedicated and honest," said McKay, who chaired the task force. "Her school existed long before the McKay voucher did, and I can't imagine in any way that she is doing anything but what she perceives best for the children she educates."
Also on the 14-member panel was National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, whose grandson is a student at Hardman's school. Hammer almost always agreed with Hardman whenever the group took a position. And a frequent witness before the group was Robyn Rennick, Hardman's business associate and the principal at her school.
"Not only was (the task force) skewed in the direction of private schools, it was skewed in the direction of one particular private school," said task force member Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.
In the legislature, Hardman's influence is not confined to the Senate. At a House subcommittee meeting discussing that chamber's voucher reform proposal the week before last, only three witnesses were permitted to speak: Hardman, Rennick and John Kirtley, founder of the corporate tax credit voucher.
E-mails obtained under the public records law also show that Hardman has influence and access to Gov. Jeb Bush and his top education aide, Patricia Levesque.
On Aug. 15, Hardman wrote Bush a letter that she subtitled, "Or How Not to Get Hit By The Heifer Dust," in which she complained that a new form that voucher-taking schools had to fill out would be used "to destroy parental choice and by the liberal media."
When Bush asked Levesque about it, she responded: "Dr. Hardman should be fine now. We made every single change to the form that she gave us (except for one that was modified to her satisfaction). She has since sent thank you letters for the job DOE is doing."
Hardman, a registered Republican, according to the questionnaire she filed with Bush's office, denied she had any special access. "I don't think I have that much influence," she said. "I just speak my mind
and I try to use common sense."
Judges in other cases have accepted Hardman's expertise without comment, and Hardman, 59, boasted of her appearances as an expert witness in a curriculum vitae she provided to Bush's office when he appointed her to a state commission.
In that material, Hardman also wrote that she overcame dyslexia and a speech impediment as a child.
Her school, also known as Woodland Hall Academy, has 35 of its 60 students taking McKay vouchers, totaling $247,000 this school year, according to state and school district records.
Hardman said the statewide implementation of the voucher program in 2001 has resulted in her enrollment increasing from about 45 or 50 then to about 60 now.
According to Internal Revenue Service records for nonprofit groups, Hardman paid herself $58,333 from the school in 2002 and $59,083 in 2001 -- a $5,000 increase from her pay in 2000, prior to the McKay vouchers.
The school does its testing through Hardman & Associates, Hardman's for-profit consulting company that shares office space and staff with the school on the outskirts of Tallahassee. The school's address is also listed in Division of Corporations records for her other business interests, including Gulf to Bay Construction and Development and Sunset Harbor Docks Inc.
Hardman said she spends about 40 hours a week at the school and 20 hours a week on her construction businesses in the Port St. Joe area of the Panhandle.
Hardman has been a strong opponent of standardized testing for McKay students, arguing that disabled children ought to be judged individually and that only parents, not the state, should have a right to that information.
She also opposes requiring that schools be accredited to receive vouchers -- putting her at odds with the Florida Association of Academic Nonpublic Schools, the umbrella group for a dozen accrediting groups that set standards in teacher qualification and curriculum.
The Dyslexia Research Institute is not accredited by any of the FAANS groups, but rather by the National Private Schools Accreditation Alliance, which advertises on its Web site: "We warmly welcome you as you are."
So far this legislative session, bills in both the House and Senate dealing with the McKay program do not include the provisions Hardman has lobbied against. Neither bill requires that schools be accredited, use certified teachers or offer any special education programs in order to receive McKay vouchers.
Tuitions might rise for parents using vouchersBy S.V. Date, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau Sunday, May 16, 2004
TALLAHASSEE — In 2000, parents using a voucher for disabled children to send a child to the Dyslexia Research Institute did not have to supplement the state's $4,700 check — state law prohibited the practice.
Four years later, thanks to a change in the law in 2001 done at the behest of the politically connected private school, those same parents will have to spend nearly $5,000 of their own money — almost matching the value of the $5,100 voucher — to get the same education.
The net effect: Low-income parents, whom the McKay voucher program was created to help, will now have to pay almost as much out of pocket this autumn as they would have before the voucher program was created, with the school's administrators reaping most of the windfall from the voucher payment, former teachers and parents charge.
"That's horrible. That's nothing short of rape," said Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who served with school director Patricia Hardman on a Senate task force studying reported abuses in the program. "It turns out that this school is a poster child for why we need accountability."
Hardman, who runs the nonprofit school, an affiliated for-profit testing business and a construction company from the same one-story building on the outskirts of Tallahassee, did not return numerous phone calls regarding this story.
Florida Department of Education spokesman MacKay Jimeson said, "Parents who have decided to use school-choice programs have a variety of schools to pick from that will help meet their child's learning needs. Parents of dyslexic students who are unwilling to pay for a tuition increase can take advantage of many other excellent options in the area that will allow their children to get the valuable resources and tailored curriculum they need."
The tuition and fees for voucher-taking parents of dyslexic children at Hardman's school rose from about $4,700 in 2000-01 to $6,995 in 2001-02 to $7,500 this year, and will rise to $10,000 for 2004-05, according to documents from the school obtained by The Palm Beach Post and interviews with former teachers and parents of former students. Families with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 a year are expected to pay an additional $1,000 in tuition, while families earning more than $60,000 are asked to pay $2,000 more, according to the fee schedules.
The latest increase means the out-of-pocket costs for low-income parents will increase from about $2,000 in 2001-02 to about $5,000 next year. Those fees are on top of the $550 diagnostic test all new students are required to take from Hardman and Associates, the school's for-profit arm, the parents and teachers said.
While Hardman earns about $60,000 a year and her top administrator earns about $50,000, the school's teachers currently make $12,000 a year — less than half of what starting teachers in Leon County's public schools are paid. The school's administrators have said the planned $2,500 tuition increase would be used to give teachers a choice next year of a $3,000 raise or health insurance.
One parent of a former student complained that with only 18 teachers, the proposed raises would account for just $54,000 of the additional $150,000 the tuition increase should generate. Tammy Jackson said when she accused school officials of planning to pocket the difference and threatened to complain, her son was expelled.
"I said, 'I'm getting ready to call the Department of Education, because this has got to be illegal,'" Jackson said she told a teacher after learning of the tuition increase at a Dec. 4 meeting at the school. "I said something to the wrong person."
The letter of expulsion for Jackson's son said he was being expelled because of excessive absences, but Jackson said he had been absent more often the previous year and had not been expelled then. She also said his absences were due to her chronic illness.
Hardman was a key architect of the original McKay law, largely because of her friendship with former Senate President John McKay, after whom the voucher program for disabled students was named. She also was a leading proponent to delete the program's original provision that participating schools be required to accept the voucher amount as full payment of tuition.
The change was done quietly enough that Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and a voucher opponent who has followed the program since its inception, was not aware that it had taken place.
McKay early last year recommended that Hardman serve on current Senate President Jim King's task force to study the program's problems. Also on the 14-member panel was National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, whose grandson is a student at Hardman's school. And a frequent witness before the group was Robyn Rennick, Hardman's top administrator at the school as well as Hardman's business associate and co-owner of a lakefront home.
Hardman also enjoys a close relationship with Gov. Jeb Bush's office, getting a one-on-on meeting with Bush during the next-to-last week of this spring's legislative session to lobby him against adding regulations on the McKay program.
The proposed voucher "accountability" legislation, sparked by reports in The Post of poor oversight, fraud and abuse in all three of the state's voucher programs, died on the last day of the session.
During her tenure on the task force and in appearances before legislative committees, Hardman had opposed any increased oversight as well as proposed requirements that schools be accredited and use certified teachers. She argued that she was an expert in dyslexia and did not need the government telling her how to run her school.
In 2001, though, an administrative law judge questioned her qualifications when she testified as an expert witness in a case where she diagnosed a child with "arithmetic dyscalculia," a condition she said was related to dyslexia.
Judge P. Michael Ruff cited testimony from other experts when he decided that it wasn't proven that any such malady exists. Ruff then criticized Hardman's credentials: "Dr. Hardman does not have a degree in psychology, is not certified or licensed in Florida or any other state as a psychologist, is not currently certified as a teacher in Florida or any other state, and holds no certificate in the area of special education in Florida or any other state."
Jackson said she believes her 13-year-old son, Jarvis, benefited during his years at Dyslexia Research Institute, which also is known as Woodland Hall Academy. She said this was despite the large turnover in teachers each year because of low pay. This year, Jackson said, all but three of the 18 teachers at the start of the year were new.
Jarvis originally attended another Tallahassee private school with small class sizes from kindergarten through third grade, but Jackson said she had to transfer him to a public school six years ago when she left her job at Florida A&M University's ROTC office after she started having health problems.
Jarvis was diagnosed as dyslexic at Wesson Elementary School, where Jackson said he was doing poorly in the larger classrooms. When the McKay program was started, Jackson sent him to Woodland Hall.
Despite her inability to work full time — she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis this year — Jackson said she came up with the out-of-pocket expenses the school began demanding in 2001-02. But she said the latest tuition increase put Hardman's school out of reach — even if Jarvis hadn't been expelled.
When she complained to Hardman that she couldn't afford a $2,500 tuition increase and that it wasn't fair to expel Jarvis in the middle of a school year, "Dr. Hardman said, 'We frankly don't care. This is a business,' " Jackson said.
Wasserman Schultz said Jackson's story underlines the need for both financial and academic oversight of the voucher programs — and a specific need to re-implement the law that requires McKay schools to accept the value of the voucher as full payment.
"This voucher program should not be a profit-making venture for entrepreneurs," she said.