Florida Record

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Florida Supreme Court asked to review ruling on local school board funding for charter institutions

State Court

By John Breslin | Oct 14, 2019

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TALLAHASSEE -- School boards across Florida are asking the Supreme Court to review an appeals panel's ruling that local districts helping to fund charter schools in their areas does not violate the state constitution.

The boards originally filed suit against the Florida Department of Education, the State Board of Education and others, alleging a law, signed by then Gov. Rick Scott in June 2017 is  unconstitutional.

House Bill 7069 mandates local boards to allocate a certain portion of their capital revenues to charters, so called "schools of hope," but gives them limited control of operations of the private facilities. 

The school boards in the counties of Alachua, Bay, Broward , Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Polk, St. Lucie County, Florida, and Volusia signed up on the local action. They argued that the mandate forces them to pay for schools outside their control and supervision, and allows those same facilities to operate as local education agencies. The boards asked for an injunction blocking the implementation of the statute.

A trial court ruled in favor of the state education department and others, a finding that the First District Court of Appeal affirmed.

The opinion was written by Justice Fred Lewis. Justices Timothy Osterhaus and M.K. Thomas concurred. 

"The fact that the school boards in Florida continue to have a role in the operation of charter schools supports our conclusion that HB 7069’s capital millage provisions are constitutional," Lewis wrote.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court for review, the appellants stated they were invoking its "discretionary jurisdiction" because the decision "affects a class of constitutional or state officers, expressly declares valid a state statute, expressly construes a provision of the state constitution; and expressly and directly conflicts with decisions of the Supreme Court and other district courts of appeal on the same question of law."

The complaint was first filed in October, 2017, with the boards arguing that prior to the passage of the law, they had full control over the spending of capital funds.

They argued that the statute violated two articles of the Florida Constitution, VII and IX, the former relating to the raising of revenue, both locally and from federal funds, the latter covering public education. It is alleged that because some of the money generated via local taxes, private charter schools should not benefit from this revenue, particularly as they will not be under the control of the boards.

"The local boards’ claim that HB 7069’s capital millage provisions violate article VII and article IX of the Florida Constitution is barred by binding and settled precedent," the appeals court concluded. 

"The Florida Constitution 'creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the state board supervises the system as a whole'," Lewis noted, citing precedent, that state authority "may at times infringe on a school board’s local powers, but such infringement is expressly contemplated – and in fact encouraged by the very nature of supervision – by the Florida Constitution.”

Lewis added, "The school boards’ assertion that 'when the state determines how local taxes are being spent, and mandates that these taxes be spent to satisfy state priorities, these taxes can no longer be considered local taxes' ignores the fact that charter schools serve their local communities."

Further, the appeals court stated, under Article IX and its provisions related to federal funding, "local boards do not have any state constitutional right to federal Title 1 dollars."

Under federal law, a school district cannot receive any funds "unless the state determines that the district’s Title I plan meets the requirements of federal law and 'provides that schools served under this part substantially help children served under this part meet the challenging state academic standards.'”

The appeals panel concluded, "For the reasons set forth herein, we hold that the school boards lacked standing to raise all but their capital millage and federal Title I funding constitutional claims. Because those claims fail on the merits, the final judgment is affirmed."

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