Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’


UPDATE: As part of continued negotiations Saturday, House and Senate leaders ultimately agreed late in the day to give New World School of the Arts $500,000 in grant funding in the 2017-18 budget. More here on how that came to be — and why the school’s grant was on the chopping block in the first place.

Florida lawmakers are on the brink of cutting $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

The Florida House wants to entirely defund the New World School of the Arts, while senators propose keeping just $20,000 in aid to the school.

If lawmakers approve such drastic cuts, Miami’s widely admired public arts school would lose the state aid that sustains its dance, music, theater and visual arts programs.

Tarell Alvin McCraney, a New World alum who wrote the play that served as the basis for “Moonlight,” posted a plea to save the school’s funding on Facebook Friday. He asked supporters to call Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, “And tell em that a kid with no hope who found his way at new world sent you.”

McCraney, a 1999 graduate of the school and an Oscar winner for Moonlight’s adapted screenplay, is only one of the school’s many notable alumni who have found success in film, theater, dance and visual arts. The music director for the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” Alex Lacamoire, attended New World, as did Billy Corben, the director of the 2006 documentary “Cocaine Cowboys.”

“New World is the Juilliard of the South,” Corben said. “In an era when the governor and state legislators are obsessed with [return on investment], you need only look at the alumni list to see the impact New World School of the Arts grads are making on the economy.”

Robert Battle, the artistic director of the internationally famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and artist Hernan Bas also are among the school’s notable graduates.

“Inconceivable, that in a year when the state sits on billions of surplus revenue, education in general and an appropriation for one of the country’s most prestigious schools would be compromised or underfunded,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. The superintendent was in Tallahassee on Thursday lobbying to save the school’s funding, among other education priorities. The school district operates New World in collaboration with Miami Dade College and the University of Florida.

The proposed budget cuts were first reported by Grant Stern, a Miami columnist and radio broadcaster who is also a New World alumnus.

The Florida Legislature has allocated funding for New World every year since the school was first created by the Legislature in 1984, according to Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who lobbies in Tallahassee on behalf of the Miami-Dade school district.

Funding for the school’s core academic programs comes from the same pot of state and local education money as any other school, but the line item funds the supplies, equipment and venue rentals for the arts programs. “It’s not the academic piece, it’s all of the other pieces that are part of a high-end, nationally recognized visual and performing arts school,” Mendez-Cartaya said. “What a shame if we were to lose it this year.”

Legislators have until Tuesday to decide on the entire state budget, because of a three-day cooling off period that’s required before lawmakers can vote on the final budget. The 2017 session is scheduled to end May 5. The proposed cuts come amid ongoing budget negotiations, which will continue over the weekend. It was not immediately clear why funding for New World was on the chopping block.

Mendez-Cartaya said the Miami-Dade school district is working with the Dade delegation to mitigate the loss of funding.

Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended budget called for keeping the funding level for the school the same for 2017-18.

Like the House, the Senate also originally wanted to entirely defund the school’s grant. But Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores convinced senators to include $20,000 for New World through an amendment in the Appropriations Committee earlier this month.

The school also has supporters in the House. “It helped educate our kids and I don’t want to see any education cuts, it’s as simple as that,” said Rep. Hardemon on Friday afternoon. Rep. Nick Duran, D-Miami, also Tweeted out his support for New World.