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Florida School Districts Band Together to Challenge State's Controversial Charter Schools Law

Miami’s Dade County school district is the latest, joining Palm Beach County, Broward County, and four others in challenging the constitutionality of Governor Rick Scott’s new education law.

The controversial new law in House Bill 7069 would force school districts to share their tax dollars with local charter schools. The education law has been met with great controversy leading up to Scott signing it back in June. Critics unsuccessfully urged the governor to veto the bill, arguing that it would financially disadvantage traditional public schools. Under the new law, Miami-Dade schools will have to share as much as $23.2 million in taxpayer-funded construction dollars with area charter schools in the new school year. The district is the state’s largest public school system and is estimated to lose as much as $250 million to charter schools over the course of five years.

School board members voted 8 to 1 to join litigation attempting to overturn portions of the bill. “We’ve got to do the right thing and the right thing would be to have courage to fight for the children who cannot fight for themselves,” board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall told The Miami Herald. Another school board member, Perla Tabares Hantman, opposed the decision to move towards a lawsuit, citing that it could bring about retribution for state legislators. “I am concerned that joining any type of litigation at this time will not only shift our focus from moving our school district forward but will also cause a strain on the relationship with state lawmakers,” she said.

School districts have not yet filed a lawsuit against the state, but Palm Beach school board members have already committed $25,000 to any legal fees which are estimated to surpass $100,000. The new provision would strip $10 million in the new school year or about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget for charter schools. School board member Marcia Andrews had harsh criticism for the bill calling it “a monster.”

In an op-ed piece for Sun Sentinel, Nina Rees from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, gave strong support for the bill. Rees said that the bill would allow more students from lower-performing schools to have access to “the type of high-quality early instruction that helps children get a strong foundation for lifelong learning.” Rees went on to say the unequal balance between charter and other public schools is to the “detriment of students,” citing a University of Arkansas report that pegs a $5,700 per student funding gap with traditional public schools coming out on top.

The seven school districts banning together to bring about litigation have the support of Democrat Senator Gary Farmer, who said: “the stakes couldn’t be higher.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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