With more students expected to enroll in charter schools this coming year and millions of dollars at stake, Broward and Miami-Dade public schools officials are seeking to stem the flow of students by promoting specials schools and programs.
For the second year in a row more than 7,000 additional students are expected to enter Broward and Miami-Dade charter schools in a few months, siphoning off $40-$50 million in state money from Florida’s two largest school districts.
Now seeing themselves in active competition with charters schools, both districts are fighting back to keep students and the dollars they represent.
Merrie Meyers, Director of the Broward district’s Parents, Business and Community Partnership Program, said the district has asked principals to conduct programs that highlight the quality of Broward public schools.
Meyers said parents who have been pleased with the education their children have been asked to help promote district-run schools to parents of incoming students – particularly those entering middle or high school.
The district, Meyers said, also has expanded special programs within various schools, highlighting science, technology and other studies, as well as created regional and countywide magnet schools and programs.
In addition, Meyers said, the district has pointed out the experience and advanced degree work of teachers and awards won by students.
Miami-Dade’s new programs
In Miami-Dade, the district has created additional countywide magnet schools, special programs or academies at existing schools, expanded the number of K-8 schools favored by parents, and established a virtual school in downtown.
In addition, it has allowed some 15,000 students to attend schools where their parents work or near their parents’ workplace. One school, Ada Merritt K-8, has no boundaries; it’s a school for students of parents working in the downtown area.
“We have a great deal of diversity,” said Richard Hinds, Miami-Dade Public Schools Associate Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer.
Both school districts made considerable gains last year in statewide testing. And both districts are among five finalists for the annual, national Broad Prize, awarding the winner $500,000 in college scholarships for graduating 2012 high school seniors. The prize honors urban school districts making the greatest performance and improvement in student achievement while overcoming income and ethnic achievement issues.
Despite the initiatives by the two districts, charter school enrollments are expected to increase again in the coming year.
Charter schools are a hybrid of public and private schools. Although they are privately operated, they receive state money based on student population and operate with limited oversight by the public school districts. In Florida, state money follows the student to either traditional public schools or to charter schools.
“We’d like to see our students stay in our schools,” said Lee Black, of the Broward public schools budget office. “The money and expenses follow the students.”
This school year, 2010-2011, student enrollment in 68 charter schools in Broward totaled 23,274.
More students, more charter schools
Broward schools public information officer Marsy Smith said 14 additional charter schools are expected to be added in the upcoming school year, 2011-2012. They could increase enrollment by 1,874, to a total of 25,148, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $11 million in funding for the district.
However, the district’s budget department said that based on information provided by charter schools, Broward is budgeting for a total of 29,694 students, an increase of nearly 28 percent, Black said.
She observed, however, that in past years charter schools have over-estimated enrollment increases.
A more realistic increase, Black said, would be about 13 percent, the increase during the current school year. If that occurs, the enrollment spike for 2011-2012 would be 3,026, to a total of 26,300 students. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $18 million in funding for the district.
“You plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Black said.
In Miami-Dade, enrollment this school year in 92 charter schools was 35,306. With 12 additional charter schools expected to open for 2011-2012, the district is bracing and budgeting for 5,350 additional students in charter school, to a total of 40,656, a 15 percent increase – the same percentage hike for the current school year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $30 million in funding for the district.
While the district would lose considerable funds if an additional 5,350 students attend charters in the coming year, Hinds said the district does not incur expenses for teachers and other employees. He also said, the overall loss of funds to the district annually based on charter school student enrollment is “over $200 million” and any additional students adds to that figure.
The anticipated enrollment increases in the two counties comes as the Florida Legislature has eased regulations for establishing new charter schools and expanding existing ones.
The Charter School program was enacted in 1996 by state statute and gives parents and students an alternative to public schools. The tuition free schools are created through an agreement between the schools and the district school boards. State funds are funneled to charter schools through the district school boards.