Some Florida charter schools in line for an infusion of local funding for capital projects are getting warnings from school districts not to spend the money. And some still haven’t gotten the money at all.
Two Leon County judges ruled last month in two separate cases that charter schools could receive their share of district property tax revenue for capital projects by Feb. 1, as a new state law requires.
The judges ruled the fourteen districts would not suffer “irreparable harm” if they sent the money to charters while courts weigh three separate legal actions against the new law, known as HB 7069.
However, multiple districts told charter schools that if they want to receive the money immediately, they need to plan on returning it, in the event the law gets struck down.The message from Orange County Public Schools began making the rounds among charter school officials in that district late last week. It referred to Judge John Cooper’s Jan. 30 ruling from the bench, which allowed the funding to flow. The district said it “is reviewing all options including the possibility of an appeal or a motion for rehearing.” In the meantime, the district said, it would keep the money — about $3.7 million — in an escrow account until the order becomes final.
The message continued:
Please note that during the hearing, the State Department of Education repeatedly told the court that if HB 7069 is subsequently found to be unconstitutional that the school districts could recover funds from the charter schools. Specifically the State argued that School Districts could deduct those amounts from funds provided to charter schools for operational expenses in the form of per student funding from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP). OCPS is reviewing the validity of the state’s position on this issue but is proceeding as if that assumption is correct.
However, any charter school that is agreeable to such reimbursement conditions, in the event the law is subsequently found to be unconstitutional, will be provided capital millage funds immediately without awaiting any pending appeals.
Charter school leaders in Broward County received a similar message.
Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County school district told charter schools on Jan. 26 that while the law requires it to distribute the funding, it intends to “claw back” the money if it ultimately wins the lawsuit.
One of the School Board’s primary arguments in asking the court to enjom temporarily the implementation of the capital millage provisions before February 1, 2018, was that, once the funds are distributed, the School Board will not be able to recover them. The Defendants1 disagreed with the School Board, however. They argued that the School Board had adequate remedies available in the event the statute was declared unconstitutional. The remedies the Defendants identified included, but were not limited to, charter language authorizing the School Board to recoup or “claw back” funds through adjustments to revenue disbursements. The court denied the School Board’s motion for a temporary injunction on January 12, 2018.
This letter shall serve as notice, in the event that the School Board obtains a final judgment in its favor that the above-referenced statutory requirements are unconstitutional, the School Board will utilize any available mechanlsm(s) to recoup those funds that were distributed while the unconstitutional provisions were in effect.
The Palm Beach Post reported in September that the district had issued a similar warning at the beginning of the school year, before the school board had officially challenged the law in court.
In other words, some charter schools have not received a portion of their capital projects funding yet, and some that have are being warned not to spend it.
This underscores the potential impact of spending deliberations in the Legislature. The House is set to take up a budget plan tomorrow that would use state funding to cover most charter school capital funding next year.
That would eliminate the uncertainty charter schools face because of the lawsuits, at least for the 2018-19 school year. It would also significantly blunt the new law’s impact on school districts. But it’s a tight budget year, and the Senate has not supported a similar plan.
This post has been updated to note charter school leaders in Broward County received a similar message to their counterparts in Orange. If you have more information, please contact Travis Pillow.