(WSVN) - Some South Florida private schools are suffering due to the expanded state school voucher program, which helps K-12 students attend private school. Things have gotten so bad, some principals are paying out of their own pockets to keep their schools open. 7’s Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Ada Gonzalez’s top priority is the success of her students.

Ada Gonzalez, principal, Cambridge International Academy: “The parents and the children, they’re not just our students. They’re our family.”

She’s the principal of Cambridge International Academy in Pembroke Pines.

But the school nearly closed when money from the state’s school voucher program never came.

Ada Gonzalez: “It was a moment of total panic.”

That’s when the school’s owner stepped in.

Ada Gonzalez: “She had to take from her own, reach into her pocket, basically, to be able to meet payroll and max out credit cards. She’s also had to take out two high-interest loans.”

This private school isn’t the only one struggling.

Tasha Hill, director, Cutler Bay Christian Academy: “We’re finding ourselves in a bad situation. We have to explain to our employees, ‘OK. Hey, be patient. Can you wait? Can I give you a check next week?’ It’s an embarrassing situation what’s going on now.”

Cambridge International Academy and Cutler Bay Christian Academy are two of at least 2,000 private schools in Florida that are funded through Step Up for Students. The nonprofit organization is contracted by the state to distribute scholarship money that comes from state taxes and donations.

The payments are supposed to be distributed to schools quarterly, beginning no later than Sept. 1.

Tasha Hill: “In the past, we never had a issue. Funds were always on time. You can depend on it.”

Why is this school year different?

Back in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the state’s school voucher program to include all students, no matter their family income.

In a statement to 7News, the Florida Department of Education says, “A record number of Florida families have applied to take part in the expanded state scholarship program.”

But that record number is taking its toll.

Ada Gonzalez: “I feel helpless, because you call and there’s no resolution. You know, you call, you email, they tell you, ‘No, you have to email here.'”

And parents are concerned that if funds continue to trickle in little by little, some schools could close.

Jessica Jones, parent: “It’s extremely stressful, because I don’t have anywhere else to send my child. That’s just the truth: there are no other options.”

Jessica, the mother of a kindergartner with autism, says her son’s future could be jeopardized.

Jessica Jones: “I had such a struggle to find this school, so I would have to start from square one.”

Ada Gonzalez: “We’re just hopeful that it’s not going to happen again. But who knows. If we were to have to close, it would be devastating.”

Dedicated teachers continue to work at the Cambridge International Academy as they wait for the remaining funding to come in. But clearly, something needs to be done to keep these schools on course.

Karen Hensel, 7News.


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