The odd case of A’kelynn’s Angels: the Pre-K closed because of state oversight; FTC voucher school still collecting checks for at least 134 Step Up for Students kids

A’kelynn’s Angels Christian Academy in Winter Haven has 134 Florida Tax Credit voucher students, out of 174 total students, according to its lawyer and Step Up for Students, the unelected state school board of Florida vouchers. That’s about $900,000 in corporate tax shelter money not being used elsewhere.

If FTC program drop out data holds true, 82 of those kids will be back in public school or out of school altogether within two years of getting their scholarship. Choice at work, Florida-style.

A’kelynn’s Angels is the type of school that Richard Corcoran, Kelli Stargel, and Colleen Burton are trying to drive more kids into through taxpayer-funded voucher expansion and increased punishment on real schools that serve children in under-capitalized neighborhoods. It’s the kind of school Kelli and Corcoran and Betsy DeVos will try to use to replace real schools serving undercapitalized kids like Garner Elementary if your state school leaders have their way.

Whether or not A’kelynn’s Angels actually exists as a functioning school has become a remarkably difficult fact to assess. Yes, says a lawyer who says he was retained by the school. And kids have been seen at the school.

On the other hand, no school official has returned any reporter’s call or email. And the contact phone number provided by Step Up For Students does not have a voicemail that identifies who or what the phone line belongs to. Seriously, it’s “you have reached XXX number, please leave a message.”

So maybe it is Schroedinger’s School — and emblematic of Florida’s mindless voucher grift. More on that in a moment.

Day Care shut down in 2017; did Step Up for Students notice?

By all appearances, A’kelynn’s is owned, operated, and profited from by the same woman who was forced to close A’kelynn’s Angels Learning Center Day Care Center in 2017. Her name is Connie Gaffney.

Here’s the article The Ledger wrote in 2017 when Gaffney shut down A’kelynn’s Angels Learning Center after a barrage of state violations. Read the whole thing; but a key excerpt follows:

Note that Gaffney could not be reached for comment. That will become a theme.

A’Kelynn’s Angels Day Care, 800 Havendale Blvd. NW, closed its doors last week after being cited for several violations over a year-long period. The violations ranged from Class 3 offenses, which tend to be more minor, to Class 1 violations, which are more serious.

“There are a number of violations here,” said David Ocasio, a spokesman for Florida Department of Children and Families. “These child care facilities do deserve a second chance. If these violations were spread over several years, we might not be moving forward with revocation.”

Ocasio said the facility owner, Connie Gaffney, who could not be reached for comment, told DCF that she was closing and re-evaluating what she was going to do next. Ocasio said DCF is waiting on a written letter that Gaffney is closing her business…

DCF inspected the facility in April, June and November 2016, Ocasio said. He cited at least five violations from those visits — violations he said that put the safety and health of the children at risk.

One Class 1 violation, he said, was transporting 19 children in a van that had a capacity for 12. Class 2 violations, he said, included improper supervision and a separate violation for not having the proper ratio of adults to children. The required ratios, Ocasio said, vary based on the size and type of facility and age of the children.

Class 3 violations cited by Ocasio include not being current with required inspections and not checking whether children were current for required shots or vaccinations.

“For profit” and “owned by corporate”

Now, let’s  look at A’kelynn’s Angels Christian Academy, the FTC school, on the SUFS website. There is some interesting information. It opened in 2015 — two years before A’kelynn’s Learning Center closed — and it’s been taking scholarships ever since.

Nevertheless, it is listed as a PK-12 school by SUFS.

Does it have a SUFS-funded Pre-K element despite the fact that Gaffney closed A’kelynn’s Angels Learning Center in 2017? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Did SUFS know anything about this publicly reported PK closure? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Will SUFS say one way or the other? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

AA also accepts ALL Florida vouchers, which include McKay and Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities and Hope (Bully) scholarships. It supposedly serves ESE and our most vulnerable kids. See below. I shudder for any Gardiner or McKay kids here.

I can’t find the enrollment breakdowns for those scholarships; but  it is entirely possible that no child among the 2o1 kids pays directly for the school. The school clearly only exists because of the scholarship program and corporate tax sheltering. It is a creation of SUFS.

It’s also listed as “for-profit” and “owned by corporate” on SUFS information sheet. That is also interesting, because on SunBiz, Connie Gaffney is listed as the “registered agent” for a non-profit corporation called “Akelynn’s Ministries, Inc.” It shares the same address as A’kelynn’s Angels Christian Academy — 29 7th Street SW in Winter Haven.

I don’t know enough about corporate law and ownership to know what all that means, exactly. But Connie Gaffney is at the heart of it. SUFS does not list Connie Gaffney as the school’s contact; but it does list a Kiera Gaffney. I do not know the relationship between Kiera and Connie Gaffney.

A’kelynn’s Lawyer: the school is open and always has been; A’kelynn’s administration and SUFS: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I first heard read the name “Akelynn’s Angels” in Ledger reporter Gary White’s article about vouchers a few days ago. Here was the key excerpt:

A more recent example is Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy in Winter Haven. The school, listed by Step Up for Students as having 134 students on FTC scholarships, appears to have closed since last August. No details about the closing could be found this week.

Reading that, and seeing it as emblematic of the deep problems with the high drop-out rate FTC program and Step Up for Students’ failure to oversee the schools at all, I used Akelynn’s Angels as a bit of a motif on social media for jabbing SUFS.

That apparently led SUFS to contact the school. I have no idea how they got in touch with anyone. Maybe they have access to secret numbers. The school, apparently, then contacted a lawyer named Blake J. Fredrickson. SUFS never called or rebutted me or Gary White, whose reporting was the source for my social media mentions. And I’ve heard nothing from anyone other than the school’s lawyer.

Fredrickson called me and left me a message late Monday (my voicemail works); and we connected Tuesday. He told me Gary’s reporting on the closure was incorrect; and I immediately set about communicating his point of view on behalf of his client wherever I could. He did not say why it’s impossible to contact his client and why his client’s SUFS contact information goes to an unidentified voicemail. One Wednesday, Fredrickson sent a letter to me and Gary White, which posted below.

Bottom line from the lawyer:

Akelynn Angels Christian Academy is not closed and has never been closed. The school currently has 174 [cq] number students [ed. note: SUFS says 201] and is operating daily classes as normal. 

In following up with Gary White, I learned that after he failed to get any response from the school, he drove there earlier this week and found a teacher after school who said the school was operating. The teacher gave him a phone number, which he called, to no avail. Also, someone I know said they have seen kids at the school recently.

So I have no reason to doubt what the lawyer says about the school remaining open. The reader can decide for him or herself if that’s a good thing. I think you can judge what a good thing SUFS thinks it is because of its silence.

This, folks, is the real world reality of vouchers. A’kelynn’s Angels has more voucher kids than Lakeland Christian or All Saints. Schools like AA do not exist without state vouchers; and they are the life blood of the voucher provider network. If either A’Kelynn’s Angels or Step Up for Students want to invite the school they oversee, I’d love to come. My phone # is 863-209-4037.

In the meantime, maybe they could bother to set up a voicemail.