A new legal battle over Florida charter school capital funding rules

Another charter school is tangling with the Florida Department of Education, arguing its D letter grades shouldn’t cause it to lose state capital funding.

Kids Community College’s Orange County school received consecutive D’s from the state in both the 2015-6 and 2016-17 school years. New department rules, adopted last year, disqualify the school from state facilities funding.

Those rules did not take effect without controversy. Several small charter school operators challenged the proposed rules and forced the department to delay them. As a result, the new rules took effect for the 2017-18 school year.

However, the school argues its letter grades from previous years should not be used to disqualify it from funding this school year.

“DOE’s determination using the school grade for the 2016-2017 school year is a misapplication of the rule,” the school argues in a request to appear before the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

The school contends:

In addition to there being no consideration for the effective dates of the amendments to the rule, [sic] There is no legislative intent or mandate for DOE to narrow the eligibility criteria for charter school capital outlay based on the lanaguge of Section 1013.62(3), F.S. This more narrow criteria effectively places charter schools serving an increasing underperforming demographic in [sic] jeaopardy of having fewer resources, despite actual gains and proficiencies which more accurately defines student achievement.

Other “double-D” charter schools tried to challenge the rule when the department adopted it last spring. Among other things, the department has argued Florida needed to set a higher bar for capital funding to ensure charter schools that receive the money — which increased substantially under new state laws — were serving students well. Previously, the rule only prevented F-rated charter schools from receiving capital funding.

The department successfully defended its rule in an administrative proceeding last year, but the schools appealed that ruling to the First District Court of Appeal, which hasn’t ruled in the case.

Kids Community College argues its challenge, which concentrates on which school grades the department uses to bar low-performing schools, targets a different aspect of the rule than that earlier case.

An administrative law judge heard the newer case last month, so a ruling could be coming soon. A total of 15 charter schools received D’s last year, and a D or F the year before, meaning they could be affected by the outcome of the case.

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