The Miami-Dade County Public School Board initially approved Wednesday a new budget that includes funding for the district’s most aggressive rollout of new school programs in the face of growing competition for students.
The budget also provides funding to turn school buses into roving Internet connection centers and add GPS tracking so parents can check arrival times.
Also new this year: clinics in schools to bring healthcare services not only to students, but to their families.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho called the new district programs and budget a “massive expansion of who we are.”
“The recession is behind us,” he said.
For some property owners, the more than $4.8 billion budget means slightly lower taxes, though rising property values might lead to higher bills for others.
Miami-Dade is opening 53 new choice programs in the next school year, including 16 new magnet programs focusing on forensics, digital media, robotics and more. Advanced studies programs will be integrated into 25 more schools across the district, including the internationally recognized Cambridge curriculum.
More than half of Miami-Dade students now attend a school of their choice, rather than their neighborhood school.
The district has rolled out increasingly more innovative programs, marketed in movie theaters and other ways, as charter school enrollment grows. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run.
“Our hope is that with so many innovative options, that the consumer will choose to shop here,” said board member Martin Karp.
But the programs also boost student interest and achievement, district officials say. Miami-Dade has pulled in a range of prestigious prizes and dramatically raised its graduation rate as choice programs grow.
“We used to focus on the dropout rate, how we could improve the dropout rate,” said board member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway. “What we’ve been focusing on [now] is improving the drop-in rate. How can our children be given the choices to drop-in to school?”
The new budget also includes high-tech upgrades to the district’s bus fleet, which the district says is the largest in the world.
The next school year will bring wireless Internet connectivity on school buses. Plans are in motion to park the buses in public areas to bring internet to places where there might be none.
Carvalho called it an “easy idea” with great potential.
“We know where the digital deserts are in our communities,” he said. “That digital gap must be eliminated.”
Another addition to school buses: GPS tracking. For safety reasons, bus locations won’t be provided but parents will be able to check online for arrival times.
Through a $1.45 million federal grant awarded to Florida International University’s Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing, the school district will also expand access to healthcare with new a new clinic at Miami Northwestern Senior High. The clinic will be open to the public beginning in November.
In a statement, FIU President Mark Rosenberg said: “We see ourselves as a solutions center for our community. This new partnership will enable significant improvement in community health.”
A final public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Sept. 9.
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