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More than 180 privately run schools in New Jersey promise to take on the severely disabled children that public schools can’t handle, giving them a special status in the Garden State's educational system. But these schools are also a $600 million industry funded by New Jersey taxpayers – an industry that is only loosely regulated by the state. After a two-month investigation, Star-Ledger reporter Christopher Baxter exposed what can happen when the state writes checks to private companies without closely watching what they do with the money. His reporting was a relentless indictment of the system, finding the private schools were able to spend taxpayer dollars in ways public schools could not. He uncovered nepotism among school staffs, executive pay far higher than public school superintendents, officials owning fancy cars, schools offering generous pension plans and questionable business deals between schools and companies owned by school officials. In one instance, Baxter discovered a classroom aide who was related one of the school’s directors was taking home a $94,000 salary – three times what others were paid – without even a bachelor’s degree.
Ohio standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind program require test scores be disclosed to the public so taxpayers and parents can compare results. Thousands of Ohio children, who receive hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-provided services, are exempt from standardized testing, and its sanction and reporting provisions. That's because Ohio law states that non-public elementary schools do not have to administer statewide proficiencies. So taxpayers have no idea what they are getting for their educational dollar going to non-public education.