Charter school group renews battle over Fla. facilities funding rules

An under-the-radar tussle over a Florida plan to raise the academic bar for charter schools that get state facilities funding isn’t over.

A fresh legal fight began recently, as a group representing mostly mom-and-pop charter schools challenged a new Department of Education rule that would deny funding to charters that earned consecutive D’s from the state.

The rule was re-drafted and approved last month by the Florida Board of Education after a previous legal challenge by the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools.

The state has the authority to limit capital funding to schools with “satisfactory student achievement.” Right now, it denies funding only to charter schools rated “F.” Charters that receive consecutive F’s typically close automatically.

Ratcheting up the academic standard for facilities funding could affect some small, high-poverty charter schools. Those involved in the legal challenge argue the state should not determine “satisfactory student achievement” by looking at letter grades. Rather, they argue, the state should look at individual students’ test scores.

Bills moving through the Legislature could obviate the legal fight. The charter school capital funding bill tied to the House’s budget plan, teed up for a final vote tomorrow, would deny capital outlay funding to any charter school that earns consecutive grades below a “B,” unless more than half of its students qualify for federal subsidized lunch programs.

If the bill passes, the “double-D” schools challenging the rule could continue to qualify for state facilities funding, because the vast majority of their students are low-income.