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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.”

School boards ask high court to block wide-ranging Florida education law

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

Raising the prospect of “irreversible damage” to the public-education system, nine school boards want the Florida Supreme Court to block a massive education law approved in May.

The school boards late Monday filed a constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court to the bill, which has become known in the education world by the shorthand HB 7069. The 274-page bill, spearheaded by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, dealt with a wide range of issues, including controversial subjects such as charter schools and teacher bonuses.

The challenge contends that the law violates part of the Florida Constitution that requires legislation to deal with single subjects. It alleges HB 7069 is a “prototypical example of logrolled legislation” — legislation that puts together a patchwork of issues.

School districts also have filed two lawsuits challenging HB 7069 in Leon County circuit court. But the new case filed directly to the Supreme Court involves different legal grounds and contends that immediate action is needed to block the law from moving forward. Continue Reading →

Hurricanes leave uncertainty in Florida school enrollment

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

The impact of hurricanes may be a complicating factor as lawmakers try to figure out how many students are in Florida’s public schools this year and how many might show up next year.

An enrollment estimate will be critical as the Legislature creates a roughly $24 billion public-school budget for the 2018-2019 academic year. If more students show up than estimated next year, it will result in a reduction in per-student funding, as money will have to be pro-rated among the 67 school districts to account for the population increase.

“If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said about the public-school funding formula, which is known as the Florida Education Finance Program. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” Continue Reading →

Fla. House panel backs plan for Bethune statue

Editor’s note: See our take on Bethune here.

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

A statue of civil-rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune moved closer Tuesday to replacing a likeness of a Confederate general in representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

The House Government Accountability Committee voted 20-1, with Jacksonville Republican Jay Fant opposed, to approve a measure (HB 139) that calls for a statue of Bethune to replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the National Statuary Hall.

Each state gets two representatives at the statuary hall, and Smith has represented Florida since 1922. Continue Reading →

Court overturns Fla. state board on charter school appeal

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

Pointing to similar cases in other parts of Florida, an appeals court Wednesday overturned a decision by the State Board of Education that would have cleared the way for two charter schools in Indian River County.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal was a victory for the Indian River County School Board, which in 2015 denied two charter-school applications filed by Somerset Academy, Inc. Backers of the charter schools took the issue to the State Board of Education, which rejected the decision of the Indian River board and said Somerset Academy should be allowed to move forward with the schools.

Wednesday’s ruling by the appeals court said the Indian River board had “clear and convincing evidence” on a series of issues that supported the denial of the proposed charter schools. As an example, the appeals court said the Indian River board showed that the applications failed to meet financial requirements included in state law. Continue Reading →

Study: Florida’s schools show signs of ‘resegregation’

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

The News Service of Florida

Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public-school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995. Continue Reading →