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As schools lose students, Broward's superintendent grapples with possibility of closures

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata tours a school on Nov. 20, 2023.
Broward County Public Schools
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata tours a school on Nov. 20, 2023.

A marked decline in enrollment to Broward public schools is becoming costly — and may yet lead to closures.

The decreasing number of students — in part due to families receiving taxpayer money to enroll in private schools thanks to a new state law — has Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) scrambling for a solution to save costs, with schools with low enrollment costing an estimated $2 million to keep open.

The district has lost about 3,000 students so far this year, Superintendent Peter Licata revealed in a tour of district schools earlier this week.

The decline is part of a pattern that’s forcing him to make tough choices for the future of schools across the county.

“We just don't have the budget anymore to endure a loss of thousands and thousands of kids every year,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB-1 into law in March. The billmade every Florida student eligible to receive school vouchers, regardless of family income. In Broward, it appears to be contributing to an ongoing exodus from the public school system.

School districts across the country have seen their enrollments shrink in the wake of the pandemic, which led many families to send their kids to private schools or teach them at home — and never look back.

In post-pandemic South Florida, 'unconventional' education options have thrived as the state has seen an explosion in home schooling. Across Florida, enrollment in home-based education has jumped 60% since before COVID-19, according to the most recent available state data.

READ MORE: 'Everything has gone up but my salary': Broward teachers rally for higher wages

The next step in deciding what the fate will be for dozens of Broward schools is to hold town hall meetings with communities across the county. Licata wants parents and residents to know there are options outside of closing schools.

“Everything's on the table, but nothing's being pushed forward until we meet with those communities,” he said.

Those other options include: changing the grade levels, like turning a traditional elementary school into a K-8 center; changing the type of school, such as adding magnet programs; or sectioning off parts of the campus for housing.

"Maybe it's an apartment form and also small housing developments as well as townhouses," Licata said. "We have a lot of great ideas with that from other companies that have been in that business."

The Sun Sentinel reports that according to public records, among the schools that are under-enrolled by more than 600 students are Tamarac Elementary, McNicol Middle in Hollywood and Boyd H. Anderson High in Lauderdale Lakes.

The schools short by more than 900 students include Coral Springs Middle and Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale; Parkway Middle in Lauderhill is under-enrolled by more than 1,000 students.

"We're not thinking next school year, but we need to have [a plan] in place ... when next school year starts," Licata said. "We want to have the plan in place by next August so we can be prepared."

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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