POLK COUNTY – On Feb. 6, Davenport resident Charles Aguon II, the headmaster of a private school called Kingdom Prep in Auburndale and a man known to his students as “Pastor Tiger,” was arrested on multiple charges related to child molestation.
In the aftermath, Kingdom Prep has since closed and the school’s website abruptly shut down last week. Many parents of students at the school are on their own in trying to figure out how to obtain school records necessary to transfer their children to other schools.
The incident and the resulting frustration sparked Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend to make multiple posts to his social media accounts and he has additionally made statements to media outlets criticizing the use of public education funds toward start-up private schools such as Kingdom Prep.
“There is nobody to call for help if one of these schools scams or hurts you, which happens all the time across Florida,” Townsend said.
Kingdom Prep is not the only start-up private school funded primarily through public education dollars which has received negative press. In 2017, Monarch School — a private school for the disabled that heavily relied on school choice dollars — suddenly closed when Randy Coggins, the school’s founder, was arrested on Medicaid fraud charges.
Our Children's Academy of Lake Wales shut down after allegations of fraud and reopened under a different name in Winter Haven soon after. Two staff were arrested for allegedly abusing disabled students.
“(State legislators) want to take taxpayer money and give it to schools like Kingdom Prep and 'educators' like ‘Pastor Tiger’ (Aguon) with no oversight at all while under funding the public schools that clean up their horrible mess,” Townsend said.
A non-profit called Step Up For Students helps parents obtain school choice grant money. Last week, the group hosted a conference in Lakeland and, when Townsend found out, he took aim at them, blaming them for wasting taxpayer money.
The Sun reached out to Step Up For Students staff to get their response to the accusation.
“Our job is to help connect parents with scholarships,” Step Up For Students Public Affairs Manager Patrick Gibbons said. “Outside of that there is nothing we can do but report complaints.”
Gibbons said individual arrests do not mean the school choice private school voucher program ought to be eliminated in its entirety. Gibbons said there are 3,826 Polk County students using private school choice vouchers, with 60 percent of those being minority students from low-income households.
“Academic success and parental satisfaction are primary drivers of the program’s enrollment growth from 15,000 students (statewide) in 2001 to more than 100,000 students today,” Gibbons said.
Kingdom Prep parents who would like to file a complaint are encouraged to email the Florida Department of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at email@example.com.