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Judge Rejects Local Districts’ Challenge of Controversial Law Shifting Money To Charter Schools

| April 20, 2018

Charter schools like Imagine in Palm Coast are now entitled to a lot more money from the school district to apply to renovations, new construction or a variety of other uses. (© FlaglerLive)

Charter schools like Imagine in Palm Coast are now entitled to a lot more money from the school district to apply to renovations, new construction or a variety of other uses. (© FlaglerLive)

Rejecting arguments of school boards across the state, a Leon County circuit judge this week formally rejected a challenge to a controversial 2017 law that included a series of moves to boost charter schools.


Circuit Judge John Cooper, who had earlier indicated he would turn down the challenge, issued an 18-page ruling Tuesday siding with the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education, the defendants in the case.

The lawsuit centered on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and became one of most-controversial issues of the 2017 legislative session. Debate about the measure highlighted continuing tensions between local school districts and the state about oversight and expansion of charter schools, which are public schools but are often run by private operators.

Flagler County school district board members spoke openly and critically about the law, which School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said “will change education in Flagler County for generations to come.” He was especially critical of the provision diverting school district dollars to charter schools to build or renovate buildings that are then owned by the private entities running the charter schools. “If a given charter school moves out of the building or shuts down, the public does not get the building or the benefit of the taxpayer-funded renovations,” Tucker wrote. (Flagler did not join the lawsuit.)

But that was just one of the many issues local educators were concerned about.

The mammoth law also set the stage for adding new charter schools — dubbed “schools of hope” — that would serve students whose traditional public schools have been considered low-performing.

Among other issues, the law called for school districts to provide federal Title I funding — which is designed to help schools that serve large numbers of low-income students — to charter schools.

School boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Lee, Orange Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties filed the lawsuit last year arguing, at least in part, that HB 7069 infringed on their constitutional authority to operate public schools within their districts. The Collier County School Board also intervened in the case.

Cooper held a hearing April 4 and, according to Tampa Bay Times and Orlando Sentinel reports, said he would rule in favor of the state. He then issued the 19-page final order and judgment this week rejecting the arguments raised by the school boards.

For example, Cooper dismissed an argument that the law required school boards to share local property-tax revenues with charter schools in an arbitrary way.

“HB 7069’s enrollment-based formula for charter-school capital-outlay funding accounts for the fact that schools with more students need more classrooms, and charter schools are required to spend capital-outlay funding for substantially the same purposes as school districts,” Cooper wrote. “The local boards have not shown that the capital-millage (property tax) provisions are constitutionally different from the numerous other, presumptively constitutional requirements governing the use of local tax dollars in Florida’s public schools — which have included charter schools for more than 20 years.”

As another example, Cooper rejected arguments that school districts have a right to decide how to allocate Title I money.

“HB 7069’s effort to direct more Title I funding toward individual schools is also rationally related to legitimate concerns about ensuring that Title I funds benefit schools with the highest proportion of economically disadvantaged students,” the judge wrote.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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6 Responses for “Judge Rejects Local Districts’ Challenge of Controversial Law Shifting Money To Charter Schools”

  1. Stranger in a strange land says:

    What happened to the Republican embrace of “local rule” that was howled about when common core standards were introduced? Why can’t each county decide what is best for that county’s students? I guess it’s different when it’s big state government that is forcing educational standards vs. federal. I suppose it’s the fact that PACs supported by billionaires (like Betsy Devos) and the corporations that profit from charter schools can shower funds on politicians. The parents, and teachers struggling to make ends meet can’t match that kind of fire power. Let the dumbing down of America (red states first) march on.

  2. Pogo says:

    @Follow the money to the stolen gate

    “…The lawsuit centered on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes…”

    corcoran bought his law degree from Pat Robertson’s law school. Maybe people will wake up when the Scientologist schools become more numerous. Or the Republicans move the capitol to Kolar. Probably not.

  3. kevin says:

    Sounds like what the Koch brothers and their right-wing Taliban friends calls judicial over-reach, oh but wait, this ruling is in their favor so instead it is judicial wisdom.
    The conservative forces are out to end public education in America, They have already destroyed the middle class and now they want to stop any progress for the poor to advance through education in this country so they will have an illiterate working class to clean their palaces. We are on track to having a caste system like India or a British class system of elitists. Just look at how the so called public servants of the Trump administration are acting…Pruitt, Zinke, Devos, treasury secretary mnuchin (and his obnoxious wife)…they are all pompous asses sucking the treasury (not the swamp) dry.

  4. john Dolan says:

    We have been throwing money at this problem since the 60’s, and test scores have continued to fall. I think the School Board politics have not helped.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    I could not agree more with Kevin, Pogo and Stranger. The fleecing of us all to benefit the 1% pockets and denied education to whatever left of the middle class and poor.

  6. wow says:

    “…the provision diverting school district dollars to charter schools to build or renovate buildings that are then owned by the private entities running the charter schools.” Well think about that! Our tax dollars go to some nice fat profits for the charter school fat cat owners. How cool.

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