Judge declines to block district payments to Fla. charter schools

A Leon County circuit judge rebuffed a South Florida school district’s attempt to block millions of dollars worth of local funding from going to charter schools under a hotly contested new law, according to multiple people briefed on the case.

The Palm Beach County School Board had asked Judge James Shelfer to block the state Department of Education from carrying out the new law, known as HB 7069, before Feb. 1. That’s the law’s deadline for districts to distribute an even per-student share of local property tax revenue to charter schools.

Earlier this week, the department sent out a memo saying the new law requires school districts to share a combined $91.2 million with qualifying charter schools. Palm Beach would have to pay $9.3 million to 44 charter schools — the third-highest amount in the state.

During a hearing this morning, Shelfer verbally ruled the district did not show sufficient cause to block implementation of the law, according to multiple people briefed on the case. He’s expected to issue a more detailed, written opinion in the coming days.

The judge’s decision means that, barring another legal twist, more than 500 charter schools will likely receive the payments outlined in the department’s memo.

“I am thrilled by the ruling,” Linda Terranova, the principal at Western Academy in Palm Beach, said in a statement. “Every child deserves equity under the law, regardless of which public school they attend.”

But it does not lift the clouds hanging over the new law. Shelfer previously rebuffed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Two other lawsuits — one taking aim at six parts of the law, including the funding portion, and one arguing the Legislature passed the entire law unconstitutionally — are also pending in Leon County courts.

In a statement responding to today’s ruling, Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw underlined his stance that the state constitution gives school districts the authority to decide which public schools receive their property tax revenue.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We will continue to fight to protect local school board constitutional rights to control and operate our schools, and that includes making sure that every penny is properly spent with our oversight and not put into the hands of private property owners and managers.”

A Palm Beach charter school and a parent of a child that attends have intervened in the case. They’re siding with the state, which is defending the new law.

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