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State officials applaud Broward's payout plan to charter schools. The final tab: undisclosed

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz with Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Miami on May 9, 2023.
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz with Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Miami on May 9, 2023.

Broward County Public Schools avoided potential sanctions from the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday.

The district has been under pressure from state officials to pay out an estimated $80 million to the county’s charter schools.

The dispute dates back to a tax referendum that voters approved in 2018 to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to boost teacher pay and safety initiatives. It was money voters designated to go overwhelmingly to the county’s traditional public schools, with a fraction paid out to charter schools.

At the time, public schools weren’t required to share tax referendum money with charter schools, which are funded with tax dollars but are privately run.

Since then, court cases and a new state law have made clear that tax referendum money must be shared with charters. And Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, a former charter school executive and an ardent advocate for school choice, has been working to ensure charters are paid out what they claim they are owed.

This week, the Broward school board voted to approve a three-part payment plan with the county’s charter schools to dole out an undisclosed amount, beginning on July 10, 2024.

“Payment one — July 10, 2024. One third of the principal and interest then due and owed to all charter public schools,” Broward Board Chair Lori Alhadeff said, reading out the motion.

“Payment two — July 10, 2025. One half of the remaining balance of principal and interest then due and owed to all charter schools following the first payment with interest compounding at 1% per month, 12% annually. Three, payment three — July 10, 2026 the balance of all principal and interest then due and owed to all charter public schools.”

READ MORE: State officials say Broward district owes millions to charter schools. Here’s some context

The motion passed 7-1, with Board Member Allen Zeman voting against and Board Member Torey Alston having recused himself and abstained from voting.

The district had been addressing the claims of the charter schools in court, but rushed to settle the dispute after Diaz and the state board of education threatened sanctions.

Broward officials were hard-pressed to demonstrate to state officials that the district is in compliance with state law, which requires that charter schools be funded “the same as students enrolled in other public schools in a school district”.

At a meeting in Tallahassee on Wednesday, the state board decided to table any action against Broward until its July meeting.

“I’m very happy to hear that the school district and the charter schools have come to a tentative agreement — certainly what we had hoped for,” said State Board of Education Chair Ben Gibson. “And certainly beats litigating this issue for years without our students in all our schools getting the funding that they’re entitled to.”

State officials say they’ll continue to keep tabs on the district.

“I give you our complete assurance that we will continue to monitor this,” the state Education Commissioner told Gibson, “and have the board apprised of it so that the board can continue its oversight.”

The board had been poised to consider whether Broward was “unwilling or unable” to comply with state law. Possible consequences outlined under state law include formally reporting the noncompliance to the state legislature or withholding state funding.

Broward watchers were also concerned the dispute could be used to justify the removal of more Broward school board members — as Gov. Ron DeSantis has done in the past.

For a period of time in 2022, a majority of the board was composed of DeSantis appointees, despite the board representing one of the most reliably Democratic-leaning counties in the state.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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