ing point going forward.”
Several school districts and traditional public school supporters oppose HB 7069 because of how, they argue, the law strips authority from locally elected school boards to the benefit of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed and outside the districts’ control.
There’s been talk for several months of the districts suing, but Palm Beach County’s filing Thursday in Leon County Circuit Court marked the first official court action by any district.
The complaint targets state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the state Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education — which must implement the law that took effect July 1. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.
The $419 million, 274-page law includes dozens of consequential reforms to K-12 public education policy, but the most polarizing changes are the ones that benefit charter schools. Palm Beach County Schools’ lawsuit hones in on only one of those provisions — a section of HB 7069 that requires school districts to share a cut of their local tax dollars, which are earmarked for public school construction and maintenance, with charter schools.
Attorneys for the county School Board argue this new mandate violates aspects of the Florida Constitution that say school boards “shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools . . . and determine the rate of school district taxes” and that school districts — like counties and municipalities — have the right to levy taxes.
The district wants a Leon County judge to declare that aspect of HB 7069 unconstitutional and to stop the state Department of Education from implementing it.
In diverging from the other districts’ unified effort, Palm Beach County Schools will have to shoulder the cost of its lawsuit entirely on its own, rather than share the financial burden. But board members determined it was worth that because of the enhanced control they’ll have over the lawsuit and because of the district’s specific circumstances of having had voters approve a penny sales tax just last year, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Arza, of the charter school alliance, said the group is crafting a campaign to let residents know how much money the district is “diverting from the classroom to the courtroom.”
“I think that’s going to come to light. The districts, by challenging the law, are almost challenging their own kids, harming their own kids,” Arza said, echoing an argument Republican lawmakers started using on social media over the summer.
As if already familiar with that line of attack, Palm Beach County school superintendent Robert Avossa tweeted late Wednesday to no one in particular: “We wouldn’t need to spend money in a courtroom if Florida invested in the classroom.”
Arza said the alliance plans to request to become a formal party to Palm Beach County’s lawsuit so it can argue in court in defense of HB 7069.
More than 270,000 children in Florida attend charter schools, out of the more than 2.8 million children in the K-12 public school system.
The 14 other school districts that have voted to sue — including some of the state’s largest, like Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Duval counties — have raised additional areas of concern about HB 7069.
John Borkowski, a Chicagobased attorney tapped by the districts to represent them in that proposed lawsuit, told the Times/ Herald on Friday the districts are still moving forward, but there’s “no set time or place” for when their lawsuit might be filed or what its scope might be.
Meanwhile, at least a couple of dozen of the state’s 67 county school districts are staying out of the fray. Many, like Pasco County, are simply remaining silent on the issue, while at least 12 school boards have officially voted or declared they will not sue — the largest, and most recent, of which is Hillsborough County.
Among the reasons cited by that district: How much the endeavor might cost and a fear of retribution by influential lawmakers.
The state’s funding of charters is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the Palm Beach County School Board. More suits are expected.