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Broward Public Schools will pay debt with charter schools. But the state will still monitor

The Broward County School Board on Tuesday approved a payment plan to pay off an estimated $80 million in debt owed to local charter schools. But that wasn’t enough Wednesday to take the watchful eyes of state officials off them.

After meeting for about an hour straight Tuesday, the school board publicly agreed to a three-year payment plan that will begin this summer.

The school district will pay one-third of the debt plus interest on July 10, 2024, then half of the remaining balance plus interest on July 10, 2025, and the entire balance remaining with interest on July 10, 2026. All charter schools in the county will benefit .

The local board approved the schedule a day before they had to show proof of their progress to the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The state administration was happy with the agreement, but is not letting go of the issue yet. Following the state attorney’s advice, the board plans to ask the school district for another update in July.

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“I would recommend keeping this item on the agenda until the July meeting,” said Andrew King, general counsel for the Florida Department of Education, after sharing the details of the payment plan. “We are giving Broward County time to determine what the final amount is and make that first payment.”

Where did the debt at Broward Charter Schools come from?

The debacle stems from funds the Broward school district raised through a voter-approved referendum.

In 2018, Broward County voters agreed to raise their property taxes over the next four years to increase compensation for teachers and other workers, improve school safety and other initiatives.

Instead of sharing the total $453.6 million generated with all charter schools in Broward, the school district decided at the time to distribute the funds only to charter schools with an enrollment of at least 900 students.

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The district distributed only about $4.6 million to the 21 charter schools from that referendum, according to a school district spokesperson.

Last fall, some of the charter schools sued the district over the money, arguing that a 2019 state law required the district to share the money with all charter schools, which are schools funded by taxpayers but managed by private entities.

In late March, the State Board of Education got wind of the matter and met to discuss it. King, the state’s attorney, said at the time that the Broward school district failed to properly distribute the money it raised and now owed about $80 million; the board agreed.

On Wednesday, King said the school district was still calculating the exact amount.

‘Excellent news’, but monitoring will continue

The state board ruled in March that it could impose sanctions on the district if the district failed to correct its actions at its next meeting this week, which the local board ultimately did.

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“That’s obviously excellent news,” Ben Gibson, chairman of the state board, said Wednesday.

“I am very pleased that the charter schools and the school district have reached a tentative agreement,” said board Chairman Ben Gibson. “It is certainly what we had hoped for, and it is certainly better than years of litigating this issue without our students getting the money they are entitled to at all our schools.”

Still, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. assured. that the department will closely monitor the district to ensure it is complying with the agreement.

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