Corruption Prosecutions Head Back To School

Posted On Thursday, February 20, 2014

We’ve written before about the increased scrutiny colleges and universities are facing over their handling of sexual assaults on campus.

But this week’s guilty plea of a former high-ranking employee in the Atlanta schools is a good reminder that federal, state and local authorities are also showing renewed interest in misconduct by officials who work in elementary and secondary schools and school systems.

Millicent Few, who ran the human-resources department in the Atlanta Public Schools under ousted Superintendent Beverly Hall, pleaded guilty to one count of malfeasance in office, a misdemeanor, and will serve probation. She is expected to testify against Hall, who faces charges relating to a massive standardized-testing cheating scandal in which 19 defendants have already pleaded guilty.

Closer to home, Philadelphia charter-school founder Dorothy June Brown faces a possible retrial on charges that she defrauded four schools she founded out of more than $6 million after the jury hung on 54 counts at her first trial. (She was acquitted on the other six).

But whereas Brown’s case centers on classic allegations of public corruption, the Atlanta scandal offers a look at what may become something of a growth industry for prosecutors. Test-cheating scandals aren’t exactly new, but in the current era of high-stakes testing, the financial incentives to cheat also increase the tools at the prosecutor’s disposal.

For instance, Hall is charged with theft by taking, a garden-variety property crime. So what did she steal? Her bonus. In 2009, Hall received a payment from the school system for the district’s improvement in standardized test scores—improvement that, prosecutors alleged, she knew was bogus.

It’s not uncommon anymore for administrators and even teachers to receive bonuses based on students’ standardized-test scores. It would be surprising if authorities, realizing the incentives to cheat and the financial stakes, did not launch more cheating probes in the coming years.

As Deep Throat (at least the movie version) would say: Follow the money.