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Florida House Speaker To Miami-Dade District: Share New Property Taxes With Charter Schools

Jessica Bakeman
From left, Miami-Dade County school board member Maritere Rojas, United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez-Mats, board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and others in July show support for a property tax increase. Charter schools want a share.

The speaker of the Florida House is stepping in to help charter school teachers get a share of the revenue from Miami-Dade County’s recently approved property-tax increase.

Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva, of Miami, accused the leaders of Miami-Dade County Public Schools of “deception,” writing in a letter Friday that “an illusion was created that the additional taxes would be used to benefit all schools.”

“Nothing in the ballot language dispelled this illusion or clarified the real intent of the referendum sponsors,” Oliva wrote in the letter to school board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “Such deception by elected officials is simply intolerable.”

In November, the school district asked property taxpayers to contribute about $232 million more per year for four years to increase teacher pay and hire additional school police officers. It was approved overwhelmingly. Since, charter lobbyists have pushed for their schools' teachers to get raises, too; charters are funded with public money but operated by private companies.

To Oliva’s point, the ballot language did not differentiate between traditional public school teachers and those who work in charter schools. Voters were asked to approve a tax increase by the school district “(1) to improve compensation for high quality teachers and instructional personnel, and (2) to increase school safety and security personnel.” To compare, Palm Beach County school district launched a similar referendum — which was also successful — but with wording that specifically asked for funding for “District public schools.”

Oliva continued in the letter: “It is not too late to rectify the problem. The school board can and should reassess the planned distribution of new revenue.

“Including charter schools in the use of these funds would provide an allocation that is fair to all Miami-Dade students and consistent with the plain language that the voters approved,” he wrote.

Carvalho has already negotiated a new contract with the local teachers union, United Teachers of Dade, that delineates how the funding would be spent. Starting next school year, teachers are set to receive annual supplements of anywhere from $5,000 to $18,500, with mid-career teachers getting the biggest bump. Currently, the district’s average teacher makes about $47,000.

The district has previously committed to sharing the funding for police — but not for teachers — with charter schools.

Spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said in an email on Friday evening: "The District followed existing policies and procedures in determining the utilization of referendum funds." She added that district leaders "appreciate the engagement of our legislative leaders in matters of public importance."

UTD president Karla Hernandez-Mats has called charter schools’ efforts to get a share of the funding a “brazen money grab.” She also argued it was clear that the tax increase was meant to benefit only traditional public schools.

The legislative session begins next week.

Read Oliva's full letter here:

UPDATED: This article was updated on 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, to include a comment from Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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