(The Center Square) – The Florida Supreme Court unanimously has denied a request by nine county school boards to hear their constitutional arguments against a 2017 law that requires public school districts share revenues, including property taxes, with charter schools.
The decision, released this week without comment as is customary, followed an October hearing before the Supreme Court and upheld an August ruling by the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal, effectively ending a three-year court battle with a resounding victory for school-choice advocates.
School boards argued that House Bill 7069, a massive educational omnibus measure pushed by state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran when he was House Speaker, is an unconstitutional infringement on their rights to operate public schools.
HB 7069 created Schools Of Hope, charter schools in areas with low-performing traditional public schools, and mandated local boards allocate a portion of capital revenues to the schools.
In their most-recent brief, school board attorneys argued the law forces them to pay for schools outside their control and supervision and “unconstitutionally transfers control over operational decisions from local school boards to unelected Florida state employees” at the Department of Education, creating a “parallel system of public schools.”
Department of Education attorneys, in a November brief, their most recent in the case, said the 1st District Court of Appeal had ruled correctly and there is no reason for the Supreme Court to hear the case.
“This court should reject petitioners’ invitation to contemplate a non-existent conflict,” they said.
In their October hearing before the Supreme Court, school board attorneys made last-pitch arguments in a 13-page brief that insisted the suit is necessary to maintain “local control over local schools by local representatives answerable to local voters.”
The school boards filed a notice in late September seeking a Supreme Court review after a Leon County Circuit Court judge upheld HB 7069 in January 2019 and the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected their appeal, ruling in August local districts funding charter schools in their jurisdiction does not violate the state constitution.
The districts maintained HB 7069 violated two articles of the Florida Constitution relating to raising revenue, both locally and from federal funds. They said private charter schools not under public school district control should not receive money raised for public schools.
The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld Leon County’s ruling.
"The fact that the school boards in Florida continue to have a role in the operation of charter schools supports our conclusion that HB 7069’s capital millage provisions are constitutional," 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Joseph Lewis Jr. wrote in the unanimous opinion.
"The Florida Constitution 'creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the state board supervises the system as a whole,' " Lewis wrote, adding state 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.”
The original lawsuit, filed after HB 7069 was adopted in May 2017, included 14 school boards and demanded an injunction to prevent it from being implemented.
The nine county school districts still engaged in the suit are Alachua, Lee, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Orange, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia.
Florida authorized charter schools in 1997 to address “failing” public schools, mostly in urban areas; 43 percent of the state’s charter schools are in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
During the 2018-19 school year, about 313,000 students – more than 10 percent of the Florida’s 2.84 million preK-12 children – were enrolled in 658 charter schools.