New Broward School Board rescinds vote to share charter school dollars
South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis | November 22, 2022
In one of its first actions under a return of Democratic control, the Broward School Board reversed one of the last actions of a Republican-controlled board — sharing millions of tax dollars with charter schools.
Last week, the board agreed to allocate $9.75 million in property tax dollars for maintenance, construction and technology after then-board member Kevin Tynan argued charter schools are public schools with the same needs as traditional schools.
Charter schools are politically popular with Republicans, who favor competitive options in education, while Democrats often argue they siphon money from traditional schools.
The School Board is technically nonpartisan but has been controlled for decades by Democrats. But from August until last week, Republicans held a 5-4 majority, because Gov. Ron DeSantis removed and replaced four board members following a damning grand jury report. Four of those five appointments expired after last week’s meeting.
Now six members are registered Democrats and two are Republicans, with one seat vacant.
Tuesday’s vote was along party lines, with the Republicans opposing it. DeSantis appointee Torey Alston and recently elected member Brenda Fam voted to maintain the previous board’s action. The six Democrats on the board — Lori Alhadeff, Nora Rupert, Debbi Hixon, Sarah Leonardi, Jeff Holness and Allen Zeman — voted to rescind.
“As someone who represents a lot of schools out east with very old facilities, I think it’s unconscionable that we would be giving away money, given the capital needs that we had in our district,” Leonardi said.
Fam argued the move was shortchanging charter schools.
“Students at charter schools, their parents pay public taxes for schooling,” she said. “How are we going to recompense them since they’ve selected to go to an alternative school because they don’t feel comfortable with public schools at this point?”
Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said charter schools are popular not necessarily because parents are uncomfortable with regular schools but because charter schools may offer “something that is unique that’s not available in traditional schools.
District staff said county charter schools already receive $27.8 million from the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay fund. And out of 90 charter schools in the county, only four own their own buildings, with the rest leasing. The district owns nearly all of the schools it operates.
“I don’t think we’re comparing apples to apples here,” Holness said. “When you look at the age of our traditional schools as opposed to the age of charter schools. And when you look at the fact that most charter schools are rented yet the district owned most of its schools.”
In Broward County, while the number of students in public schools continues to decline each year, the number of families attending charter schools has gone up, with 19% of all public school students attending them.
Tynan said in a written public comment he was disappointed but not surprised by the board’s expected action. He said charter schools serve a large number of “minority students and underprivileged children that you will deprive of the same opportunities you would share with other public school students.
“The argument that the money is needed more by this school board for projects that are habitually mismanaged, untimely and grossly over budget belies this point and strains credulity,” Tynan wrote.
The school district is required under state law to give charter schools a proportional share of the $223 million of a recent referendum for teacher pay increases as well as safety, security and mental health.
The School Board did agree to hold a workshop to discuss funding options. Some board members are open to providing additional money for schools that are city-run or own their facilities, such as Pembroke Pines charter schools, but not to those that are operated by for-profit management companies.
The School Board took another step to move away from the DeSantis-controlled board by replacing Alston as board chairman. Fam nominated Alston, but the board selected Alhadeff by a 6-2 vote. The board voted unanimously to select Hixon as vice chairwoman.
The selections mean the two leadership positions on the board are now held by two members who ran for seats on the School Board after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa, was killed, while Hixon lost her husband, Chris.
There were questions about whether the new board would reverse a decision by the DeSantis appointees to fire Cartwright. But so far, no one has brought the issue up. Her contract requires 60 days’ notice, so she’s expected to remain superintendent at least until a replacement is named.