Church-run charter school may be booted out of Texas program.


Education officials in Texas have pull ed the plug on a church-run charter school that has been embroiled in scandal and financial mismanagement.

In mid July the Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a three-day hearing on the fate of the Prepared Table Charter School, an institution run by the Rev. Harold Wayne Wilcox of the Greater Progressive Tabernacle Baptist Church in Humble. The school, which has been in existence since 1998, has allegedly squandered millions in tax dollars.

On Aug. 16, TEA officials revoked the controversial school's state charter and its lucrative public funding.

Texas lawmakers approved a charter school law in 1997 but officials have been lax in overseeing the program. Nearly any group or individual who applied for a charter got one--along with public funding.

The Kingwood Observer reported that Wilcox appointed himself and church board members as school administrators. Classes were held in the church sanctuary, and the "school" began paying the church $68,000 per month in rent, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Within a few years, the church had purchased or rented several other properties to expand, even though these new charters had not been approved by the TEA. By the fall of 2000, reported the Observer, Prepared Table was receiving nearly $8 million per year from the state of Texas.

TEA officials eventually became suspicious over a series of cozy arrangements between the school and church members. A church member who owned a cleaning service that cleaned the schools received $140,000 per month. When Wilcox resigned from the school, he received a "buyout package" worth $235,000 from the board--which consisted of Wilcox, his wife and his wife's sister.

Wilcox, who does not have a college degree, paid himself $210,000 annually to run the school. He paid his wife $50,000 to act as his secretary. This year, only 23 percent of Prepared Table students at the main campus passed Texas' proficiency exam. The figure was even lower at another Prepared Table school--18 percent.

State officials also accused the school of inflating the number of students t attending. The school claimed 2,500 students, but TEA officials said they could never confirm that more than 1,500 were...

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