Miami-Dade schools are missing out on millions in developer impact fees
Miami-Dade County Public Schools are missing out on millions of dollars in funding because the fees charged on new development projects are not keeping up with inflation.
It's also not keeping pace with its peer counties on collecting the fees, leaving students in Florida's state's largest school district with fewer resources.
It’s safe to say that MDCPS could use some spare millions. For instance, at a meeting on Wednesday the school board voted to increase the fees that families are charged for after-school programs — including for the roughly 73% of the district's students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals (some subsidies and fee waivers will be available).
Some school board members believe educational impact fees, a valuable source of funding for the district, may have been overlooked.
When developers build a new project in Miami-Dade County, they typically have to pay impact fees — a chunk of money that’s meant to offset the “impact” of the new development by funding additional public services like roads, parks, libraries and schools.
Each county can set their own rates, which vary based on the service that’s being funded, whether it’s sewer systems, local police forces or public art.
But unlike other counties, the Miami-Dade County Commission hasn’t increased the impact fees for schools in nearly 30 years — meaning MDPCS is missing out on a massive amount of additional funding.
“That revenue could have come into the district for its operations, its classrooms, its maintenance,” School Board Member Steve Gallon said at a meeting on Wednesday. “So this was a missed opportunity.”
It’s not clear exactly how much money MDCPS has forgone by not increasing the rates since 1995. But given the flurry of residential development over the last three decades, a district staffer said a conservative estimate would place the total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Are we an anomaly across the state?” Gallon said. “Absolutely. When you look at some of the larger districts throughout the state, districts such as Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach, they've made adjustments to the educational impact fee rates.”
Students attending schools in the heart of the city are especially in need of the additional funding, said Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, who represents Overtown, Liberty City, Brownsville, Little Haiti and other historically Black — and historically underserved — communities that have felt the pressure of gentrification.
“I'm very happy that this item is before us because there is much to be discussed about the impact fees,” Bendross-Mindingall said. “Any discussions that are held, District 2 — which is really hard-pressed for doing what we need to do for the children in the urban core — we will definitely have an opportunity.”
According to a statewide study on educational impact fees conducted for Palm Beach County, other South Florida counties are bringing in twice or three times Miami-Dade's amount.
It found that Miami-Dade collects about $2,448 for each single family home of about 2,000 square feet. Meanwhile, Palm Beach County is bringing in $6,608, while Broward County is netting $7,047, and Orange County is pulling in $9,148.
During fiscal year 2022, MDCPS collected $28 million in educational impact fees, according to an internal audit. If MDCPS had set its fees on par with the state’s other large school systems, it would have pulled in approximately $80 million in one year alone.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the school board voted to direct the superintendent to review the district’s fee structure and re-engage the county on the issue. Ultimately it’s up to the county commission to raise the rates.
Back in 2006, the school district tried to get county officials to do just that — but the issue was tabled, according to a school district memo.
In recent years, county officials have scaled back impact fees as an incentive for developers to build more affordable housing. Developers have long opposed the fees, which they argue are an undue financial burden that they ultimately pass on to residents.
Still, Gallon argues it’s the right time to restart the conversation — and says the county’s students need the additional funding.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools brings value to everyone,” Gallon said. “Everyone should have a stake in what happens in our schools, in our classrooms, and with our children.”