SAGINAW TOWNSHIP (WJRT) (8/31/2018) - Nancy Paris says she didn't create fake students to inflate enrollment numbers to receive more state school aid funds than she was entitled.
Instead, the founder of the online Paris Academy believes politics led to the Michigan Department of Education shutting down the charter school over the summer.
The Michigan State Police has an active fraud investigation into the school's enrollment figures.
"It's heartbreaking," said Paris, who is still working at getting educational records for her former students transferred to their new schools. "It breaks my heart that around 1,200 students were signed up here for fall and their school was closed."
The two-year existence of the Paris Academy, with its office in Saginaw Township, came to an abrupt end in late June, when the Michigan State Police began an investigation into allegations the cyber school was inflating its enrollment numbers.
The investigation continues, but Paris denies the allegations.
"There were no fake students," she said. "Every student that enrolled here and we put into our count, if you will, our student roster, had signed up legitimately."
The cyber charter school received money like other public and charter schools in Michigan through per pupil funding. Paris said her school had perfect audits for the first two years.
Her numbers showed the school had an average of 715 students last school year. But Paris said the state did an audit in May, which showed it only had 562.
That would mean the Paris Academy had received more than $1.1 million from the state than it should have.
Paris blamed the discrepancy on the state's new rules for cyber schools.
"It's my understanding that it's because a new set of rules was applied to the way students were counted by the state -- and rules that were not published," she said.
Paris believes the success of the Paris Academy worried the state's education department.
"I think that this was politically motivated," she said. "I think there were people in powerful positions that did not want this model to continue."
The Michigan Department of Education says the new rules about counting cyber school students didn't go into effect until this month and does not unfairly target online schools.
But Paris believes those new rules were used by the state in that May audit.