Author Archive | Special to redefinED

School district officials question Hope Scholarship program

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE – More than 7,300 Florida public school students who are subject to bullying or violence are expected to participate in the first year of the new “Hope Scholarship” program, which will provide state funding to send students to private schools.

But that estimate from state analysts may have to be adjusted based on questions raised Wednesday by school officials from around the state in reaction to a proposed rule from the Department of Education aimed at implementing the voucher-like scholarship program, passed by the Legislature earlier this year. Continue Reading →


School boards try to speed up ‘Schools of Hope’ lawsuit

News Service of Florida

School boards and the state are sparring about whether a challenge to a controversial 2017 education law should move quickly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper on April 17 upheld the law, which is commonly known as HB 7069 and includes a series of steps to boost charter schools. Cooper’s ruling led 11 school boards to appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Last week, 10 of those school boards filed a document requesting that the case be quickly “certified” to the Supreme Court because of the need for immediate resolution. Lawyers for the state responded Friday, arguing that the case should go through the regular appeals process.

The wide-ranging law, a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, included changes such as requiring county school boards to share local property-tax revenues with charter schools for building-related expenses. It also set the stage for adding new charter schools — dubbed “schools of hope” — that will serve students whose traditional public schools have been considered low-performing.

The school boards contend in the legal challenge that the law usurps their constitutional authority to operate public schools. In the filing last week seeking to move quickly to the Supreme Court, the school boards said they need to make decisions about issues such as their budgets.

“There can be no doubt that this constitutional debate between state and local control over education is a question of great public importance that should be, and likely will be, decided by the Florida Supreme Court,” attorneys for the school boards said in a document posted on the appeals-court website. “Thus, the question of whether early certification to the Florida Supreme Court is required rests on immediacy; that is, how important is it for the case to be resolved without waiting for two levels of appellate scrutiny to unfold? Here, an early final decision is critically important.”

But in the response filed Friday at the appeals court, the state’s lawyers argued there is “no emergency here, and none of these challenges require immediate resolution” by the Supreme Court. “No special urgency warrants certification for pass-through jurisdiction here, and the normal appellate process should run its course,” the state’s lawyers argued.


Fla. constitutional ‘framers’ want to weigh in on education adequacy lawsuit

News Service of Florida

Some members of Florida’s 1998 Constitution Revision Commission are seeking to file a brief in the Florida Supreme Court as part of a legal battle about whether the state is meeting its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the former commissioners filed a motion Tuesday asking for approval to file a friend-of-the-court brief. A footnote in the motion indicates 10 former commissioners want to join in the brief, including former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.

Mills represented the groups suing the state during earlier stages of the case. Continue Reading →


Colleges wary of dual enrollment change

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — State colleges could face higher costs after a new law revamped the dual-enrollment program for students at private high schools who take courses at public colleges and universities.

Dual enrollment is an increasingly popular program that allows students from grades six through 12 to take post-secondary courses that help them complete high school as well as get a head start on college degrees.

More than 60,000 students are using the program to attend state and community colleges and state universities.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, 56,245 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 28 state and community colleges, an increase of 12.5 percent over the 2011-2012 year, according to the state Department of Education.

In 2015-2016, 5,842 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 12 universities, according to the state Board of Governors.

The program is popular, in part, because dual-enrollment students pay no tuition and the costs of textbooks are covered. Continue Reading →

Judge breaks down decision upholding Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ law

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Rejecting arguments of school boards across the state, a Leon County circuit judge this week formally rejected a challenge to a controversial 2017 law that included a series of moves to boost charter schools.

Circuit Judge John Cooper, who had earlier indicated he would turn down the challenge, issued an 18-page ruling Tuesday siding with the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education, the defendants in the case.

The lawsuit centered on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and became one of the most-controversial issues of the 2017 legislative session. Debate about the measure highlighted continuing tensions between local school districts and the state about oversight and expansion of charter schools, which are public schools but are often run by private operators. Continue Reading →

Judge declines to dismiss Palm Beach lawsuit challenging HB 7069

News Service of Florida

A circuit judge has rejected the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Palm Beach County School Board that challenges a controversial new education law.

After holding a hearing in the case, Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer issued a two-paragraph order late Monday afternoon denying the state’s motion for dismissal. The Palm Beach County School Board in September filed the case, which challenges a law, commonly known as HB 7069, that the Legislature passed this spring.

The case targets part of the law requiring school boards to share with charter schools a portion of property-tax revenues used for building projects. The Palm Beach County board contends that the requirement violates the Florida Constitution by infringing on the rights of local school boards.

In a brief this month, attorneys for the Palm Beach board argued the court should stop that part of the law from taking effect. Continue Reading →

Florida’s ‘Blaine Amendment’ could be erased

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

A ban on state support for religious groups would be removed from the Florida Constitution under a proposal approved Wednesday by a Constitution Revision Commission panel.

In a 5-1 vote, the commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee endorsed a measure (Proposal 4) that would eliminate the Constitution’s so-called “no-aid” provision, which prohibits public funding “directly or indirectly” for any church, religious group or “sectarian institution.”

The no-aid provision, which dates to Florida’s 1885 Constitution, has been invoked in recent years in legal fights over using publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools. A state appellate court in 2004 cited the provision in striking down a voucher program, though the Florida Supreme Court later found the program unconstitutional on other grounds.

Continue Reading →

State wants massive Fla. education lawsuit dismissed

News Service of Florida

The Florida Department of Education this week asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a controversial law that is expected to boost charter schools.

State attorneys filed a 15-page motion last week in Leon County circuit court arguing that the challenge filed by the Palm Beach County School Board is “based on erroneous interpretations of the Florida Constitution.”

The lawsuit, filed in September by the Palm Beach County board, is one of at least three challenges to the wide-ranging law — commonly known as HB 7069 — passed this spring by lawmakers.

The Palm Beach County case focuses on part of the law that requires school boards to provide money to charter schools for construction and other building-related expenses. The money is raised through local property taxes, and the Palm Beach County board argues the requirement in the law is an “infringement on the board’s constitutionally granted authority to operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the district and determine the rate of school district taxes and to levy ad valorem taxes for school district purposes.”

But in the motion filed this week, attorneys for the Department of Education pointed to the state’s constitutional authority over public schools. “This authority allows the state to require local school boards to support all of their free public schools — including local charter schools — using both state and locally generated funds,” the motion said. “Hence, nothing in HB 7069’s capital-funding provisions unconstitutionally interferes with a school board’s control over local schools.”