By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
In a dispute stemming from a proposal to add a charter school in Palm Beach County, an appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of a law that allows the State Board of Education to overturn local denials of charter-school applications.
The 4th District Court of Appeal turned down arguments by the Palm Beach County School Board that the law infringes on the power of local school boards to decide on the creation of charter schools, which are public schools typically run by private entities.
“The Florida Constitution … creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the State Board supervises the system as a whole,” said the eight-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Alan Forst and joined by judges Carole Taylor and Mark Klingensmith. “This broader supervisory 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.”The ruling came in a dispute about an application by Florida Charter Educational Foundation, Inc., and South Palm Beach Charter School to open a charter school. The Palm Beach County School Board denied the application on grounds including that the proposal lacked “innovative learning methods,” Wednesday’s ruling said.
The applicants appealed the Palm Beach board’s decision, and the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission — which makes recommendations to the State Board of Education — said the charter school should be approved. The State Board of Education subsequently issued an order reversing the county’s denial of the charter-school application.
While the appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of the law, it ruled in favor of the Palm Beach County School Board on part of the case. It said the Charter School Appeal Commission failed to provide a legally required “fact-based justification” for recommending approval of the proposed charter school.
As a result, the appeals court ordered that the case go back to Charter School Appeal Commission to provide a justification for its recommendation. The State Board of Education would then be able to act on the recommendation.
“CSAC (the Charter School Appeal Commission) was required to make factual findings, either about the application itself or the process used by the School Board in making its decision. … Moreover, at the required CSAC meeting, CSAC members failed to discuss the issue, ask any questions to the parties, or engage in any fact-finding before their vote,” Wednesday’s ruling said. “CSAC’s sole, conclusory statement in its recommendation failed to assist the State Board in making a fair and impartial review of the denial, and frustrates our review of the record. Due to the omission, we cannot meaningfully determine if the State Board’s decision was supported by competent, substantial evidence.”