CHAR­TER

Tampa Bay Times - - From The Front Page - Con­tact Kris­ten M. Clark at kclark@ mi­ami­her­ald.com. Fol­low @ByKris­tenMClark

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.

CHRIS URSO | Times

The state’s fund­ing of char­ters is the focus of a law­suit filed by the Palm Beach County School Board. More suits are ex­pected.

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