Unhappy with the funding it gets for upkeep of its city-run charter school system, Pembroke Pines wants to change state law to compel the Broward school district to share some property tax revenue.
The school district hates the idea, saying it can't afford to give up any money for construction, repairs and equipment for traditional public schools.
So now we have a heated clash pitting government vs. government, and Pines charter supporters vs. outsiders.
Pembroke Pines seems to relish these fights; witness past battles with neighboring Southwest Ranches over an aborted immigrant detention center and gates on shared roads.
"What's the motivation for the district not wanting to share these funds?" Pines commissioner Angelo Castillo said. "Is it to limit parental choice? I characterize it as evil."
I characterize it as a good old-fashioned money fight, with Pines wanting to change the rules to keep its successful 5,600-student charter system going. That's understandable.
But the city also has to understand that the Broward school district has outdated schools and many pressing needs in eastern and central areas, while the western corridor has seen a wave of new construction and Pines' seven city-run charters are in relatively good shape.
Pines commissioner Jay Schwartz says the city's charters "offer our children a better opportunity" and deserve the added funding, about $4 million a year. "This isn't vouchers, this isn't public money going to private firms or religious institutions," said Schwartz.
Instead of changing state law to take a bite from Broward's traditional schools, I'd like to see Pines officials take a different approach. I was astounded to learn that cities which run their own charter systems aren't allowed to levy taxes or issue bonds to support those schools. Why not change state law to permit that?
City voters are sometimes asked to float bonds to build new city halls or sewer lines. Shouldn't they get a choice about funding city-run charters as an alternative to traditional schools?
Schwartz didn't seem thrilled about that idea, saying it would amount to double taxation. Pines residents would still pay property taxes for Broward district schools. "We're fighting for the taxpayer who's already reaching into his pocket to pay for public education, but it all goes downtown," he said.
Charter schools are free public schools run by private operators or cities. Charter schools get the same amount as traditional schools for teachers and operational costs ($6,386 per student this year), although districts hold back some money for oversight.
The big difference is funding for buildings, equipment and upkeep. School districts get these "capital funds" through property tax. Charters get it through a special state fund. As charters have multiplied, more schools are dividing the state money. That has put Pines' charters in a squeeze.
If all else fails, maybe the city should go the Dolphins' route: Seek a $3 million-a-year state sales-tax subsidy. If our legislators will consider it for a billionaire's NFL team, maybe they'll do the same for Pines' high-achieving charter kids.
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