Just 15 percent of Broward County’s public school students attend charter schools, but statewide, charter schools have received the state’s entire pot of capital improvement dollars for the past three years.
In Tallahassee, legislators are arguing about whether that money should be shared with traditional public schools.
“There’s not enough to go around, but I think public education in general needs to have more support and more funds,” said Devarn Flowers, principal of Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School.
Last year, Pines Charter’s gym shelter rusted out. They had to spend about $400,000 to replace it. Principal Flowers says that’s an example of why charters need the state’s capital improvement money.
“The charter schools deserve to have equitable funding and public schools receive those funds in a different form," Flowers said. "We need to receive those funds as well.”
The money Flowers is referring to is local property tax dollars that public school districts receive for the same purpose.
At the state level, that money is raised from taxes on telephone land lines. As they’ve dwindled, so has the money in that pot, down to about $150 million. It would certainly help maintenance at charter schools like Flowers’, but it’s just a drop in the bucket for any of South Florida’s public school districts, who would each receive a sliver of the pie.
“So I think having an argument of trying to figure out who’s gonna get the most out of $150 million is the wrong conversation,” said Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. “The conversation should be, 'How do we find enough dollars in this state to prioritize investment in public education?'”
Robert Runcie says per pupil spending in Broward is about $7,000. As a comparison, he says Massachusetts spends $18,000 per pupil, also pointing out that the state of Florida has slashed funding for his district by more than $750 million since 2008.
“And that resulted in this district putting over a billion dollars worth of property and maintenance work on hold,” Runcie said.
Runcie and Flowers agree on this: it’s smarter to maintain facilities than it is to let them rot and then have to replace them entirely.
Runcie says Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale and Northeast High in Oakland Park are two examples of many facilities in dire need of renovation, but there just hasn’t been enough money to pay for the projects.
“We all need to recognize that the value of our property as homeowners, the quality of life in our communities, is inextricably tied to the public school system," Runcie said.