Florida officials defend new charter school law

Lawyers for the state of Florida argue local school boards don’t have the authority to challenge several contentious provisions of a new education law.

Thirteen school boards this fall filed a wide-ranging lawsuit to block six key provisions of HB 7069. The state responded this week, asking a Leon County circuit judge to dismiss the case. It argues the school boards don’t have legal standing to challenge five of those provisions.

The state’s lawyers cite court cases that found constitutional officers — including school district officials — can’t challenge laws that affect their official duties, unless the law they challenge forces officials to spend public money.

That, the state argues, means district officials can’t sue over parts of the law that:

  • Allow Schools of Hope, charter schools run by operators with proven track records serving low-income students, to open with a streamlined application
  • Speed up the timetable for struggling public schools to turn around their performance before consequences kick in
  • Set new rules for distributing federal funds that support low-income students
  • Limit districts’ authority to modify charter contracts
  • Allow more charter school networks to form “Local Education Agencies” under federal law

The state’s lawyers still tackle those issues on the merits. Among other things, they argue the state constitution gives the Legislature authority to oversee districts, and districts’ claims about the harms HB 7069 will cause are “speculative.”

But they spend much more space in their 44-page legal brief defending changes that require school districts to share more local revenue with charter schools in their counties.

The Palm Beach school board has filed a separate lawsuit challenging that part of the law on its own.

In one key passage, the state’s motion to dismiss points out that before the new law passed, the state law already required school districts to share one type of local property taxes with charters — the discretionary property taxes some districts levy to fund school operations. Indeed, other state courts have upheld that requirement.

As a result, the state argues, the districts’ claim that it’s unconstitutional to require them to share local revenue with charters “rests entirely on an implicit (but unfounded) constitutional distinction between discretionary local operating funds and discretionary local capital funds for the benefit of students in local public schools.”

Later, they return to a familiar theme. The state constitution might give districts authority over all “free public schools” inside their borders. But the state has the power to regulate their use of that authority.

“The State’s authority allows it to require local school boards to support all of their free public schools – including local charter schools – using both state and locally generated funds,” they write.

Charter Schools, Courts