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  • South Carolina Daily Gazette

    SC agency removes private school from voucher list over misspending allegations

    By Skylar Laird,

    2024-04-11
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1leKyz_0sO3ygBF00

    The Department of Education's current office at 1429 Senate Street in Columbia on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. After years of being up for sale, the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees approved purchasing the building Tuesday. (Abraham Kenmore/SC Daily Gazette)

    COLUMBIA — A Florence private school whose director is accused of misusing public money is no longer an approved recipient of taxpayer-funded K-12 scholarships, according to a letter provided to the SC Daily Gazette.

    The state Department of Education suspended Palmetto Promise Academy’s approval Thursday, two days after the Gazette reported it was among 221 private schools where parents could spend their $6,000 state allotment starting this school year.

    Earlier this week, an agency spokesman said the school qualified to be on its list because the director pledged to check her employees’ legal status and potential criminal background, which is all that state law requires for approval.

    But that changed after the Gazette reported Yvonne Brown-Burgess remains under investigation for her spending of public dollars while running a charter school in Florence.

    The agency “is in receipt of information associated with ongoing litigation involving Palmetto Youth Academy and Florence County School District One,” reads the letter from Deputy Superintendent John Tyler.

    “After reviewing the allegations and considering its obligations as a steward of the education scholarship funds, the SCDE has made the decision to suspend Palmetto Promise Academy’s approval as an education service provider,” reads the one-paragraph letter.

    SC school with director under investigation among options for K-12 vouchers

    Palmetto Promise Academy has no website but shares an address and director with the defunct Palmetto Youth Academy, a charter school that opened in 2005, sponsored by Florence County’s largest school district.

    Florence One officials decided last year not to renew the school’s charter, citing — among other things — violations of state law and its own academic goals. The Administrative Law Court upheld the decision last August, according to court filings.

    Florence One Superintendent Richard O’Malley later accused Brown-Burgess of using taxpayer money for personal gain. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division continues to investigate those claims, a spokeswoman told the SC Daily Gazette on Monday.

    Brown-Burgess did not immediately respond to an email or phone call requesting comment Thursday. She declined to comment in an email to the Gazette earlier this week.

    Suspension Letter PPA

    Since the court upheld the district’s decision, a court-appointed official has recovered $400,000 that Florence One officials believe should go back to the district, according to a news release Wednesday from the school district.

    Court officials have identified another $114,000 they believe school director Brown-Burgess paid herself from a school account. Brown-Burgess told investigators that she took the money with the charter school board’s permission to buy credits to increase her retirement benefits, according to court filings also released Wednesday by the district.

    O’Malley questioned how Palmetto Promise Academy ended up on the list in the first place.

    “It baffles me how a business entity with no authorization to operate a school in South Carolina gets on the list of approved providers to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers,” he said in a statement.

    In the inaugural year of South Carolina’s K-12 scholarship program, the parents of 5,000 students will receive $6,000 toward tuition, tutoring and other school-related coasts. Payments are set to start in July, unless the state Supreme Court throws out last year’s law before then.

    A ruling is pending , but a lawsuit from the South Carolina Education Association and NAACP does not block the program’s start.

    The parents of 7,907 students applied for the 5,000 slots this coming school year.

    However, not all are eligible. As of Tuesday, 2,467 scholarships had been awarded and 912 were denied. More than half of the denials were due to their parents making too much money, according to the Department of Education.

    Eligibility is limited the first year to low-income students who are either attending a traditional public school this year or entering kindergarten in the fall. (Students in a public charter school are ineligible.)

    At least one other school has been removed from the list.

    The department rescinded its approval of Bella Beauty School in Columbia, also after questions from the Gazette. The nail and esthetician program misunderstood what the state meant as an independent school, a spokesman said.

    The post SC agency removes private school from voucher list over misspending allegations appeared first on SC Daily Gazette .

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