Broward delegation hears about school choice glitches, capital fund deficiencies

District officials say that $16 million that went for school vouchers did not follow students when they returned to Broward County public schools.

The idea that public money should follow students wherever they attend school was a big part of the rationale behind the state’s expansion of school choice this year.

But a “huge amount” of that money — $16 million — slated to go to private schools did not follow students when they ended up back in Broward County public schools last year, school district officials told lawmakers this week. Legislation is needed to fix the problem, school officials said.

Broward County’s legislative delegation met with Broward County officials to set legislative priorities as the Session draws near and a big question that lawmakers had was about the effect of education legislation passed this year.

The last regular Session saw a unanimous Republican supermajority pass the country’s largest expansion of universal school choice. But the Broward school officials say they — and many other school districts — are struggling with an issue predating that expansion that put Florida among eight states giving public money for private schools regardless of family income. The money didn’t follow students when they returned to public school last year.

“How do you recoup the dollars from a family that took the voucher” but then returned to public school? said Judith Marte, deputy superintendent of finance and operations for Broward, explaining that she’s in talks with Department of Education officials to get last year’s share. “That is the question.”

Starting this school year, families regardless of income could opt to take $8,000 a year in public funding and apply it to tuition outside the public system. Before this year, it was limited to families making 400% or less than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is about $111,000 yearly for a family of four. It also expanded the vouchers to more home-schoolers this year.

Marte estimated that 1,700 students who signed up to get their share of public funding to go to private school last year returned to Broward schools.

So, Broward County was shorted about $16 million, she said.

Right now, school financial officials from around the state are working with the state to get this reconciled, but an overall fix is needed, Marte said.

“Fingers crossed, we’re getting our money,” Marte said. “But we need more than fingers crossed.”

In the same vein of public money going to places other than public schools, Central Broward’s Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood asked about legislation that made capital funding available to charter schools.

“This was a drive-by,” Osgood said of the law (HB 1259) that will move hundreds of millions a year to school buildings not part of the public system. This capital outlay for charter schools is allocated based on per-student enrollment, not actual capital needs.

Marte put that figure at a $12 million cost to Broward’s school buildings.

“We do not have $12 million that would be spent on our deferred maintenance, which, the last time our capital staff calculated, was more than $2 billion with a ‘b,’~,” Marte said.

Marte said a good fix for that would be limiting capital funding to charter schools that occupy publicly owned buildings, like when cities operate a charter school, as Pembroke Pines does.

Osgood asked the district to formulate a one-pager so lawmakers could be specific about the cost to Broward County public schools.

“We need to understand when we make policy in the state of Florida how it helps or hurts our school district — that’s the missing piece,” Osgood said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Rick Whitaker

    October 6, 2023 at 8:58 am

    destroying public schools is one of the christian racist goals. this article spells out the financial problems it is causing, the brainwashing and lack of a balanced education is a huge problem. kids being separated into divisive hate groups under the guise of ” christian” values is a slap to jesus’ face. public schools are far better than homeschooling or christian indoctrination. if you are going to brainwash your kids, do it after school.. the maga cult is determined to ruin our democratic country. ron desantis is a rabid dog of a so-called man.

  • Sonja Fitch

    October 8, 2023 at 5:49 am

    As if this is a surprise ‘. Money is money. And the student is totally worthless! Told you money would not follow children students! Guarantee common Public good !

Comments are closed.


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