More than 200 protesters gathered in West Palm Beach Tuesday afternoon to rally against a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature that would distribute funds raised by tax increases to charter schools.
Voters approved $800 million in funding for schools last year in a ballot measure that specified tax increases could provide funding for teacher raises for traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Teachers, parents and students wore black Tuesday and carried signs that read “Respect PBC voters and election results” and “We are giving the kids a future, you are stealing their future voice.” They lined the sidewalk in front of the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections’ office in West Palm Beach before gathering in the parking lot to hear from school board members and local elected officials.
The House version of the bill, HB 7123, passed last Thursday. The Senate will have to sign off during budget negotiations in the coming days for it to move forward.
Jade Brown, a teacher at Greenacres Elementary School, said that funding would help traditional public schools close the gap between what schools want to provide for their students and what they can actually afford to do.
“The kids really need to have an exciting education, something that sticks with them, that helps them love school,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we would love to do for our students, and we can’t, because of funding.”
She said she encouraged friends and family members to vote for last year’s tax increase.
A smaller group of counter-protesters at the Tuesday rally stood out from the black-clad crowd in their green school T-shirts, bearing signs that read “Charter parents pay this tax too” and “It’s only 10%.” They were students, parents and teachers from Western Academy Charter School in Royal Palm Beach.
Western Academy Principal Linda Terranova said she supports the bill because charter schools are public schools under the law, and she thinks the county needs to be compelled to share public school resources with charters like hers.
“They’re getting $200 million a year, and they don’t want to share a mere 10 percent of that money with the charter schools,” she said. “Our students make up 10 percent, and we should be getting 10 percent under the law.”
Palm Beach County charter schools have sued for a share of the tax increase, asking a judge to either force the school board to share the new money or void the four-year tax.
Annmarie Embick, a mom of four Jupiter Elementary School students, said she took her kids with her to campaign for the tax increase last year around Tequesta, where they live. She said she was thrilled to see it pass and saddened when she heard the Legislature wanted to move some of the money approved by voters for traditional schools into charter schools’ budgets.
“We were maybe going to get our children what they deserve and want,” she said, but instead, “public schools always take the hit for everyone else.”