State wants explanation from districts withholding charter school funds

The Florida Department of Education has rebuked a pair of school districts that did not release millions of dollars in funding to charter schools by Feb. 1, as a new state law requires.

Two Leon County judges ruled in separate cases in January that school districts needed to provide charter schools with their share of local capital outlay funding while they challenged the law in court.

However, two school districts involved in the cases — Orange and Broward Counties — declined to provide the funding. Instead, they informed charter schools in their jurisdictions that they would keep the money in escrow accounts while weighing their legal options.

In a letter, Hershel Lyons, the state’s chancellor of K-12 education, ordered the two districts to either show they’ve released the funds, or provide the state with a legal explanation, by noon Friday.

Citing the judges’ rulings, he wrote, “the pendency of this legal action is not an appropriate basis for nonpayment of the capital outlay funds.”

In a statement to WLRN, the Broward school district objected to the new law:

Broward County Public Schools firmly believes that House Bill 7069 is detrimental to students and teachers by allowing the use of local taxpayer dollars to pay for capital improvements to properties owned by private, for-profit entities.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said Broward and Orange were the only districts that received the letter from Lyons. Other districts have released the funds, though Palm Beach County officials have said they intend to “claw back” the money if they ultimately win the lawsuits.

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