Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fifth-largest school district in the nation and is responsible for the education of more than 300,000 students. However, under a new amendment proposed by Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee, MDCPS could be dismantled and replaced by dozens of smaller independent school boards.
Under Florida law, a school district is contiguous with the existing county. The law also allows for voters in neighboring counties to combine their school districts, but no districts have done so. So Florida has 67 counties and 67 school districts that differ greatly in size.
Under the plan introduced by state Sen. Jeff Brandes and state Rep. Matt Caldwell, that could change. The proposed amendment would allow the Florida Legislature to abolish existing school districts and create a number of smaller ones in their place.
Furthermore, the amendment would abolish the requirement that school board positions be nonpartisan, meaning the introduction of Republican-versus-Democrat politics to school boards. In fact, the bill would allow existing city or county governments to double as school boards.
So under the proposal, theoretically, cities like Miami, Miami Beach, and Hialeah could decide to run their own schools through their city commissions. Meanwhile, a number of communities in South Miami-Dade could band together to elect their own school board separate from the rest of the county.
Brandes represents portions of Pinellas County and pointed to a recent Tampa Bay Times article that exposed the state of five failing elementary schools in the poorer and blacker areas of the county.
"It's clear the Pinellas school district has failed those students," he told the Times. "It may ultimately be that the best solution can come from the school district. But having the opportunity to present to the city of St. Petersburg the option of running those schools themselves could be an excellent discussion."
Brandes says the plan is about cutting down on bureaucracy and red tape.
Of course, opponents have concerns — namely, that taxes in the richer parts of large counties help to pay for education throughout the area and that dividing school districts could lead to inequality.
"As much as I like the idea of making it easier to hold school districts accountable, I think one of the paths of resistance is that it may not create equitable school districts," Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, head of the Broward school district's facilities task force, tells the Sun Sentinel. "My primary concern is any benefit gained would be outweighed by creating even more inequity."
A similar plan was proposed in 1998, with a lot of the complaints coming from South Florida. Cities such as Boca Raton and Pembroke Pines didn't think their local schools were getting enough attention from the larger county school districts. The plan ultimately failed, in part thanks to many of the same concerns being raised about the new one.
However, the idea of school districts being governed at the city level certainly isn't unique throughout the United States. Boston and Baltimore, for example, operate their own school districts, while the schools in the surrounding suburbs are controlled either locally or on the county level.