A lawsuit waiting to happen on charter school funding?

Travis Pillow

The Palm Beach County School Board has proposed a new property tax levy to boost teacher salaries and pay for security officers. The initial proposal excluded charter schools, but now they are now fighting to change that.

Much of the debate, including some recent coverage by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, has focused on whether it’s fair to exclude charters, which enroll roughly one in ten Palm Beach public-school students.

The School Board has been resistant for years to new charter schools, often rejecting more than a dozen applications a year because they say the charters don’t offer creative alternatives to existing schools, as required by state rules. The board joined six other Florida school districts last year in suing the state over a law requiring school districts to share property tax revenue with charters.

Charter school parents say their schools deserve part of the tax windfall if voters approve it.

“We pay the same taxes as everyone else,” said Jenny Vargas, whose daughter is an 8th grader at Renaissance Charter School, a K-8 campus in West Palm Beach. “The funds should walk with each child to their school.”

But another question hangs over this debate: Whether it’s legal to deny charter schools an equal share of the funding. It might not be.

Last year, a judge ruled that Florida statutes require charter schools to receive an equal per-student share of any revenue districts raise through optional property taxes. The ruling was a boon for charter schools in Indian River County. But the school board there didn’t appeal the ruling, which means it’s not a binding precedent in Palm Beach County — much less Alachua County, or other school districts where citizens voted to tax themselves beyond the state’s basic funding requirements to pay for public-school operations, but don’t share the revenue equally with charter schools.

This could be a lawsuit waiting to happen, not just in Palm Beach, but elsewhere in the state.

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