Author Archive | Special to redefinED

Quality of schools confronts Fla. appeals court

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

A Tallahassee-based appeals court wrestled Tuesday with what standard should be applied to Florida’s education system, with judges sounding skeptical that courts were even a proper place to hear the issue.

At least two members of a three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeal directed sharp questions at Jodi Siegel, an attorney for a coalition of advocates and parents who sued the state eight years ago for allegedly failing to provide a quality education system.

While the judges questioned both sides, even Siegel conceded afterward that they seemed skeptical about courts’ ability to referee the fight.

“They did, and we hope we made our argument,” she said.

The central issue in the appeal is whether courts can evaluate the state’s obligation under a 1998 constitutional amendment that declares it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.

But Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled last year that the judiciary should be hesitant to wade too deeply into the issue and give deference to the Legislature under the separation of powers. The judges at Tuesday’s hearing seemed more likely than not to agree. Continue Reading →

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School districts to take Fla. to court over massive education law

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

The Broward County School Board voted Wednesday to move ahead with legal action against a sweeping new education law, an initial step toward a court clash over one of the legislative session’s most controversial bills.

During a special meeting called to discuss the potential lawsuit, board members voted unanimously to allow the district to hire an outside lawyer to help handle the case. Broward County expects to be followed by other districts — including Miami-Dade County — in mounting a challenge to the law.

The legislation (HB 7069), signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, would overhaul a vast swath of state education law. It deals with everything from mandatory recess for elementary school students and standardized testing to charter school funding and teacher bonuses.

In a memo given to the Broward County board ahead of the meeting, the board’s general counsel outlined five grounds to challenge the 278-page, $419 million measure. The grounds include an argument that the massive legislation violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement that each bill deal with a single subject.

But it also launches broadsides against some aspects of the legislation that are friendly to charter schools. The new law makes it easier for charter schools to open near academically struggling traditional public schools, something the Broward County board says infringes on its authority over schools.

The law, championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, also requires school districts to share with charter schools construction funds raised by local property taxes, something that could weaken the districts’ credit outlook. Continue Reading →

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Fla. Gov. Rick Scott faces increasing pressure on school funding

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

The chorus of voices calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial education bill — and perhaps part of the state budget for public schools — grew Tuesday, even as supporters tried to push back.

Two of the state’s major education organizations — the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents — sent letters to Scott on Tuesday asking him to nix a wide-ranging schools bill (HB 7069) unveiled on the next-to-last business day of the 2017 legislative session.

The superintendents went a step further and called on Scott to use his line-item veto to strike the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, a move that would essentially force the Legislature to pass a new education budget. The FEFP comprises the majority of state and local funding that flows to public schools.

The letters from the two organizations came on top of calls from the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, for Scott to take dramatic action on HB 7069, a sweeping measure covering everything from school uniforms and sunscreen to teacher bonuses and recess.

The measure is perhaps best known for its inclusion of a funding program for “schools of hope,” including charter schools in areas with academically struggling traditional schools, and an expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus system.

The school boards association was particularly blistering about the way that the bill was put together in budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The legislation emerged as a “conforming bill,” tied to the budget and essentially subject only to an up-or-down vote. Continue Reading →

Critics call for veto of massive education bill

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 9, 2017……… After lawmakers ignored their calls to vote down a sprawling education bill, opponents of the wide-ranging measure have turned to Gov. Rick Scott as their last hope to stop the proposal from becoming law.

It is not clear when the bill (HB 7069), which covers everything from charter schools and teacher bonuses to school uniforms and sunscreen, will hit Scott’s desk. It could be weeks before the Legislature decides to forward the budget-related bill to the governor.

But within hours of its passage Monday night through the Senate by the narrowest possible margin, 20-18, opponents were already beginning to urge Scott to use his veto pen on the measure. Continue Reading →

Court upholds Florida charter school appeal law

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

In a dispute stemming from a proposal to add a charter school in Palm Beach County, an appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of a law that allows the State Board of Education to overturn local denials of charter-school applications.

The 4th District Court of Appeal turned down arguments by the Palm Beach County School Board that the law infringes on the power of local school boards to decide on the creation of charter schools, which are public schools typically run by private entities.

“The Florida Constitution … creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the State Board supervises the system as a whole,” said the eight-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Alan Forst and joined by judges Carole Taylor and Mark Klingensmith. “This broader supervisory authority may at times infringe on a school board’s local powers, but such infringement is expressly contemplated — and in fact encouraged by the very nature of supervision — by the Florida Constitution.” Continue Reading →

Legal battle over Florida education system ‘adequacy’ ready for ruling

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

A Leon County circuit judge heard closing arguments Friday in a potentially far-reaching lawsuit that challenges whether the state has met a constitutional requirement to provide a “high quality” system of public schools.

Judge George Reynolds, who heard four weeks of testimony and arguments, described the case as a “difficult issue.” He did not rule Friday and said lawyers have until April 25 to file written arguments.

The lawsuit, led by a group called Citizens for Strong Schools, is rooted in a 1998 constitutional amendment that says it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.

Citizens for Strong Schools argues that Florida has not complied and that the court should require the state to take steps to carry out the constitutional amendment. Continue Reading →

Appeals court to hear arguments in Florida tax credit scholarship case

From the News Service of Florida

A state appeals court will hear arguments May 10 in a lawsuit led by the Florida Education Association challenging the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week set the hearing date after Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed out the lawsuit in May 2015 because he ruled the plaintiffs did not have legal “standing.” The voucher-like Tax Credit Scholarship program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to non-profit entities that help pay for low-income children to attend private schools. In a brief filed in August with the appeals court, the plaintiffs argued they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the program. Continue Reading →

Massive education, school choice bills advance in Florida Senate

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

A slate of education measures spliced into two larger bills passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, as legislative “trains” dealing with public-school issues began to leave the station.

One of the bills (SB 524), which originally weighed in at 15 pages, was amended to run closer to 59 pages. At least seven other pieces of legislation were combined in the new measure, which now deals with everything from funding for universities that are approaching “pre-eminent status” to services related to cochlear implants.

Most of the debate on the bill revolved around the “Best and Brightest” program, which would give annual bonuses to teachers who are highly rated and whose SAT or ACT scores rank in the top fifth of test results. The measure is a priority of the House but has encountered resistance in the Senate.
Continue Reading →