Miami-Dade School District proposes new job perk: school choice priority for employees’ kids

Students at Pine Lake Elementary, a Miami-Dade County magnet school that focuses on botany and zoology, celebrate Earth Day.

As schools in cities across the United States continue struggling to attract and retain teachers, the nation’s fourth-largest district seeks to carve out a new benefit: better odds for its employees’ children to win coveted seats at highly rated magnet schools.

The proposed Miami-Dade County Public Schools policy is set for a school board vote on Aug. 16, the same day members of the United Teachers of Dade are set to vote on a new labor agreement codifying the job benefit.

The proposal would allow parents and guardians who work for the district to “evoke an employee benefit to increase the likelihood of their child being selected during a random selection process” for district schools of choice.

It would set aside 5% of available space in magnet schools for a separate lottery open only to children of school district employees. Students who did not win seats in the employees-only lottery could also enter the public lottery for the remaining spots in the school.

The revised school choice policy also would give magnet admissions priority to children of honorably discharged U.S. military veterans. State law already requires districts to give priority to children of active-duty service members.

Reserving 5% of available spots in each magnet school for district employees would reach further than common school district policies that allow children of school employees to attend the school where their parent or caregiver works.

Pasco County Schools, in the Tampa Bay area, offers such a perk. Chicago Public Schools, the fourth-largest district in the country after Miami-Dade, sets aside two spots in the entry grade of magnet schools for children of employees who work at the site.

School choice has become commonplace in Miami-Dade. The school district’s magnet brochure for the coming school year touts more than 1,000 different magnet and choice programs, and notes that three in four of the district’s students now choose the school they attend.

The employee preference proposal drew praise from a top leader with the United Teachers of Dade who called it a “welcome improvement” and morale booster for employees, many of whom toil in low-paid, high-stress jobs.

“Improving the morale of employees is paramount to maintaining high-quality professional educators when so many are choosing to walk away from the profession during some of our most difficult times,” UTD First Vice President Antonio White told school board members during a June meeting.

The proposed policy was also a priority of the teachers union early in the contract negotiations process, said Jude Bruno, communications director for the United Teachers of Dade. The provision is also included in the proposed 2023-2026 contract that is up for a vote by members next month.

Bruno said the plan was to codify it in the contract so that if the school board changes the policy during the contract period, “they have to engage with us.”

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BY Lisa Buie

Lisa Buie is senior reporter for NextSteps. The daughter of a public school superintendent, she spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and bureau chief at the Tampa Bay Times before joining Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, where she served for nearly five years as marketing and communications manager. She lives with her husband and their teenage son, who has benefited from education choice.