‘Patriot Pastor’ Televangelist’s Voucher-Funded School Employs Uncertified Teachers

Although Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) has said he wants to eliminate the state’s troubled private-school voucher program, the Republican-controlled state House yesterday passed a budget maintaining the program, and the state Senate is apparently poised to do the same. The Columbus Dispatch reports on one parochial school that fails to meet the lowered requirements for private schools to receive state money: Harvest Preparatory Academy, operated by televangelist Rod Parsley’s World Harvest megachurch.

About 500 students attend Harvest Preparatory Academy. Thirty-six teachers and two aides educate them.

But only eight are licensed, the Ohio Department of Education says. And more than one-third of staff members hadn’t had a background check more than midway through the school year.

Parsley is a major player in Ohio Republican politics. Along with Russell Johnson, another area megachurch pastor, he organized a political machine of so-called “patriot pastors” that in effect functioned as a church-based campaign arm for Kenneth Blackwell’s 2006 bid to defeat Strickland for governor. Blackwell, who once proposed eliminating all state funding of public schools, made expanding the voucher program a signature of his campaign, which lost by a wide margin.

“Harvest Prep has a problem, and we knew about it,” said a state department of education spokesman, although apparently only now is the department conducting rudimentary inspections of voucher-funded private schools, and beginning to uncover basic certification problems. Although a spokesman for the school insists that “all K-12 teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree” and thus “easily meet or exceed the state of Ohio’s training and certification requirements,” neither statement appears to be true, according to the Dispatch:

Harvest Prep says it requires its teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, but the state says that’s not good enough: Teachers have to have at least a “non-tax” teaching certificate. That allows people with college degrees to teach in private schools without undergoing the more rigorous requirements of a regular teaching degree.

At least one teacher, Will Dudley, doesn’t have a college degree. The former Ohio State University basketball player, who teaches middle-school English and science and coaches the Harvest Prep basketball team, was featured in a March Dispatch story about players who haven’t graduated.

Beyond basic certification and criminal background checks, a deeper inspection of Ohio’s voucher program could uncover more grievous problems, like those found after the first five years of Cleveland’s voucher experiment. In addition to siphoning money away from public schools and into (almost entirely) religious programs, these schools performed poorly, even while often excluding students on the basis of “special education status, disabilities, behavioral problems, academic performance, religious affiliation or other factors.” Some schools were even found, after years of operation, to be defrauding the state and keeping children in unsafe buildings.