South Florida Charter Schools Should Receive Property Tax Funds, State Lawmakers Say

Mar 10, 2019

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., who represents Hialeah and is chairman of the Senate Education committee, says South Florida charter schools shouldn’t be excluded from money generated by voter-approved property tax hikes.

“Those referendum that say they’re going to be used for public school teachers should go to all public school teachers, not only union school teachers,” Diaz told WLRN Thursday.

The South Florida delegation in Tallahassee has continued to debate the issue. Earlier this month, House Speaker Jose Oliva sent a letter to the Miami-Dade County school district, calling out the property tax increase that would be used for teacher raises and school safety.

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

Also recently, a third charter school in Palm Beach County sued the district over similar teacher pay hikes.

The South Florida Roundup delved into charter schools and money. Host Tom Hudson spoke with a panel of education reporters: WLRN’s Jessica Bakeman; The Palm Beach Post’s Andrew Marra; and The Miami Herald’s Colleen Wright.

JESSICA BAKEMAN: There's a great misunderstanding about charter schools and what they are. There is no such thing as a charter school that's not public. Technically, they are funded with public dollars. However, they are operated by private companies, and sometimes those nonprofits that operate the charter schools turn over all the money to a for-profit company. So it is complicated. Especially in the cases of Miami-Dade, where there was no language that tried to say this is only for district schools. 

I can see where people would read it and think this is going to go to all the schools. If you're a parent of a child who goes to a charter school, I don't see why you would assume that charter schools would not benefit from that. 

WLRN: School administration says it doesn't have control over those teachers. It doesn't have control over ensuring that those charter schools use the financial resources that are given to them for specific reasons, including this referendum money that is going to be collected for teacher pay. 

BAKEMAN: School boards have some oversight ability over the charter schools that are in their district. But not nearly as much, of course, as the control they have over their own public schools. And in Miami-Dade, they already negotiated with the teachers' union exactly how much money their raises were going to be for teachers. 

Andrew, the referendum that was on the ballot for Palm Beach voters was slightly different. It anticipated this debate in a certain way, didn't it? 

ANDREW MARRA: That's right. It is specifically excluded charters in the language. When voters walked in, if they read it, they knew the charter would not part of it. There have been a bit of a tug-of-war about that. When the school board was writing the language that would go on the ballot, originally the superintendent wanted to include charters. The school board was opposed to that. And so there was that turnabout, so they decided not to include charters. 

What is the pay situation inside a public charter school? What do we know about that? 

COLLEEN WRIGHT: Each charter school has its own little governing board and they are the ones who set the salaries and contracts with their own teachers. I was actually really curious about that. I pulled some of those numbers from the Florida Department of Education. It's actually true. Charter school teachers actually make less than traditional public school teachers. 

BAKEMAN: According to legislators who've been here a long time, at the beginning charter schools said 'we'll never ask for anything. We'll never ask for money for construction nor to pay the rent on our buildings and yet now they do get that.' Over time, the charter school industry, as it gets bigger and stronger, is demanding more and more of the same resources that public schools are getting. And as you mentioned, the tradeoff is they actually don't have a lot of those regulations and the bureaucratic situation that the public schools have to deal with.