Her success had nothing to do with quality tutoring, the investigators alleged in an arrest affidavit filed in 2011.
Instead, they said, Robinson, 36, ran a brazen fraud scheme, filing suspicious enrollment papers and bilking the school district out of more than $130,000. Robinson has pleaded not guilty. Her case is pending in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Hers wasnt the only company accused of turning in suspect forms or inflated invoices. Records kept by the Education Department and school districts across Florida chronicle widespread problems. But no regulator has examined those records to look for bad actors.
A Times review of audits, contract documents and written complaints filed since 2010 found at least 40 cases statewide in which companies were accused of faking or altering enrollment forms or billing for tutoring that didnt happen. Only two of those cases led to criminal charges.
In Broward County, employees of Touchdown Learning forged student signatures and filed invoices for students they never tutored, schools administrators charged.
In Hernando County last spring, JFK Tutoring sent its employees instructions to falsify attendance records and bill for lessons that never happened, the district said.
In Miami-Dade last year, one company faked enrollment forms that were supposed to be impossible to forge, tracking down the districts supplier of a special paper and hiring a designer to fake the districts logo, officials said.
A Touchdown representative couldnt be reached. JFK officials denied the allegation.
In 2011, in a spot check of five counties, including Hillsborough, the state Education Department flagged invoice errors made by 10 of 21 companies.
We have had providers do all kinds of things, said Diana Holden, whose office oversees tutoring contracts for Collier County schools. Weve been billed for hours that never occurred, and we find out when the parents call us and ask when tutoring is going to start, and weve already paid for 10 or 15 hours of tutoring.
Parents sometimes call to complain their child never was tutored, but they later change their story. We believe that in some of those cases, the provider might have contacted the parent and offered them something, said Bernadette Montgomery, whose office oversees tutoring contracts in Miami-Dade schools.
Despite repeated problems, Florida school administrators say they often give tutoring companies the benefit of the doubt, treating billing errors as honest mistakes.
Its amazing how many people cant count minutes, said Eugenia Gordon, whose office oversees tutoring contracts in Bay County schools.
Districts also have struggled to police conflicts of interest. In Palm Beach County last year, an audit found that one in three teachers who tutored on the side were earning money from students in their own classrooms. Thats a conflict, according to a 2004 opinion by the Florida Commission on Ethics, because it positions teachers to use a public job for private gain.
In Miami-Dade County, tutoring companies have relied on teacher influence to drive enrollment, School Board member Raquel Regalado said.
The businesses enlist the help of principals, who recruit their favorite teachers to work for the companies, Regalado said. Then the teachers were going and telling the parents, You have to put this kid in tutoring, Regalado said.
In Lafayette County, in northern Florida, it was the schools superintendent who had close ties to a tutoring company.
While serving as the elected head of the district, Thomas Lashley ran the regions only Sylvan Learning Centers. In 2011, he valued the for-profit company at $800,000, according to financial disclosure forms. Lashley never sought business with his district, Lafayette schools officials said, but his company accepted more than $118,000 last year to tutor children in neighboring schools.
In the opinion of Peter Butzin, head of the government accountability group Common Cause Florida, the arrangement created the appearance of a conflict of interest but probably didnt break any rules.
Lashley left office last year. He couldnt be reached for comment.
Every year, the state Education Department misses chances to crack down on troubled tutoring firms.
The agency keeps files documenting problems, including dozens of formal complaints and letters from school districts that outline serious misdeeds. Yet regulators have done little with the information. They cant even locate written complaints gathered during the tutoring programs first six years in Florida.
The result has been to stick districts with the same questionable companies year after year.
Although the Education Department grades companies on a scale of excellent to unsatisfactory, the ranking largely depends on tests administered by tutoring companies to chart student progress.
The state-assigned grades dont reflect allegations of suspicious paperwork, overbilling, shoddy tutoring or other misdeeds. Troubled companies often get good grades and are brought back to seek more government money.
The state can ban a tutoring company for two years when the matter is of such magnitude that it cannot be addressed by the school district, state Board of Education rules say. But the Education Department has rarely taken advantage.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education didnt respond to specific questions about why the state hasnt barred more companies for bad behavior. Cheryl Etters noted that districts have the right to cancel contracts with problem providers.
Yet state rules force districts to do business with every approved tutoring company that expresses an interest. If a company violates its district contract, the school system can fire the company for the remainder of the year.
But if the company keeps its state approval, its back the next year for more business with the district. School officials say they contract every year with companies they know to have serious problems.
We all deal with the same kind of issues, said Collier Countys Holden, which is whats so frustrating, because we can all compare notes, and were all seeing the same things from the same providers year after year.
In a letter last February, Holden accused Miami-based A+ Educational Mapping of placing kids with unscreened tutors, filing questionable invoices, employing a manager who couldnt pass a background check and using tutoring materials that apparently were taken from another company.
Such conduct not only constitutes a contract violation but also potentially puts students at risk of harm, Holden wrote.
The state got a copy of the letter, then approved the company again to work with kids awarding it a ranking of excellent.
The companys owner, Schiller Jerome, told the Times that the districts allegations were false. He said his firm was allowed to finish out the year in Collier County and noted that A+ Educational is back tutoring there this year. And our company now has the most students, he said.
Lax oversight means tutoring firms can keep earning tax dollars even when they rack up complaints.
Florida school districts have ended contracts with Computer Ed at least 12 times in the past two years, according to the state Education Department. Run by Michael Bartley, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of fleeing police in Michigan in 2007, the company also was the subject of at least six written complaints.
One came from a former tutor who said Computer Ed sent her to work before she passed a background check, then told her to falsify records to cover it up. Another tutor accused the company of altering attendance forms before submitting bills to Leon County schools.
Bartley denied all allegations of wrongdoing and defended his companys record, saying it often ended contracts with districts on its own terms.
The Education Department has approved Computer Ed as a government contractor every year it has applied, including this one. Last school year, Computer Ed earned more than $53,000 tutoring in Hillsborough, Pinellas and two other counties.
A lobbying win
Last year, as the legislative session drew to a close, funding for the tutoring program was in jeopardy. Florida earlier had requested freedom from No Child Left Behind, and the Obama administration had granted it. Requirements to hire private tutors no longer applied in Florida.
Then something unexpected happened. The state Legislature stepped in and restored the mandate.
How did this come about?
The answer traces to a special interest group that quietly has grown up around the government program, a group whose coffers have grown flush over the past decade with hundreds of millions of tax dollars: Big Tutoring.
Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.