Florida charter school group takes state to appeals court

A group of mom-and-pop Florida charter schools has lawyered up and is taking the state to court over charter school funding rules.

The rules adopted earlier this year by the state Board of Education set a higher academic bar for charter schools to receive state facilities funding. Schools that receive consecutive D grades for academic performance will no longer be eligible.

The Florida Association of Independent Public Schools fought the change before the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. It lost. But now it’s hired a law firm and asked the First District Court of Appeal to hear the case.

The group wants to redefined the academic standards for charter schools that receive state capital outlay funding. The law says only charters with “satisfactory student achievement based on state accountability standards applicable to the charter school” can qualify.

The state board determined charter schools with F grades and those that have received consecutive D’s, don’t have satisfactory achievement. A charter school that receives multiple F’s can be forced to close automatically, so the state has reason to avoid sending money to schools at risk of closing due to low academic performance.

The charter school association (which is separate from Florida’s two larger charter school lobbying groups) said the state shouldn’t use school grades to decide which schools qualify for funding. Instead, it argues “satisfactory student achievement” should allow any charter school to receive capital outlay funding, but only for students who score “satisfactory” or higher on standardized assessments.

Darren Schwartz, an administrative law judge, rejected that reasoning in the ruling now under appeal. He ruled that “satisfactory” achievement scores are just the first step in the accountability system that applies to charter schools.

“The distribution of capital outlay funds, as set forth by the Florida Legislature, is based on the charter school’s eligibility, not an individual student’s eligibility based on that student’s performance on an individual test,” he wrote.

In a statement Thursday, Christopher Norwood, the leader of the charter school association, invoked Thurgood Marshall and Brown v. Board to criticize that reasoning.

“Why should a student achieving ‘satisfactory student achievement’ at one school be denied the same funding at another school?” he asked. “Particularly when many of the children affected by this
Proposed Rule live in poor, urban and rural communities?”


Meanwhile, a new law, passed during the first round of the legal battle, requires more local capital funding to follow students to charter schools. It also triples the facilities funding available to charter schools, which raises the stakes in this rule challenge.

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