Atlanta-area parents and students have been outraged by recent revelation of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 200 public school teachers and administrators.
Now, residents are finding that not only are the futures of their children and local schools in jeopardy, but so are their tax dollars.
Atlanta Public Schools officials say they don't know how much they'll have to spend to rid the system of corrupted teachers.
Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis has vowed to terminate all of the 178 educators, including 38 principals, involved in the years-long scandal of changing students' answers on the CRCT, one of Georgia's primary standardized tests. The cheating operation spanned across 44 of 56 Atlanta public schools.
But handing out pink slips doesn't mean the teachers and administrators will leave immediately. They can ask for hearings on their case, which will keep them on the payroll until the matter is resolved.
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The district will also have to pay legal fees, as well as compensate the substitute teachers who fill in for those in trouble.
To top that, the state education department says the Atlanta schools affected by the scandal received up to $12,000 a year each for their performance based on the fake scores. That adds up to nearly $1 million in federal funds that may have to be paid back.
A 'Culture' of Cheating
The APS probe was launched last year by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal. He became suspicious following reports by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of test score irregularities.
The state report released July 5 accuses former Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides of burying and destroying records that made the school system look bad.
They also altered complaints and early investigations about misconduct and "accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children's ability to learn," according to the AJC.
"APS is run like the mob," one teacher told investigators, saying she cheated because she feared losing her job if she didn't. Others made similar claims.
The report says some of those involved erased and changed students' answers, with gloves on to avoid fingerprints on the answer sheets. Others pointed correct answers out to students or placed them near students who would do well.
Cheating was "an open secret," investigators said.
"A culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation permeated the APS system from the highest ranks down," they wrote. "Cheating was allowed to proliferate until, in the words of one former APS principal, 'It became intertwined in Atlanta Public Schools... a part of what the culture is all about.'"
Standardized Testing Debate
The APS investigation found "systemic misconduct" dating back to 2001, all so that schools would meet "adequate yearly progress" mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Critics say this and other reports of cheating epidemics around the country proves standardized tests aren't the right way to rate teachers and students.
"Anybody whose job is tied to performance, it is a setup," Atlanta-area teacher Laura Pittman told the AJC.
"The teachers realize, 'Ok, I'm going to get paid if my kids do well,'" Atlanta parent Chris Hampton told a local radio station.
"So, they start in the beginning of the year, in August or September when school starts, teaching the test," he said.
President Barack Obama initially set a deadline for this summer to reform No Child Left Behind. However, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said little progress has been made as it has taken a back seat to federal budget concerns.
APS is now on accreditation probation.
Most students return to school Aug. 8, although some year-round schools in the district started July 13.