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Appellate Court Hears Case Against 2017 Education Law

June 11th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The future of charter schools is on the line in a case heard by the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday morning.

The 2017 legislation allows charter schools to set up in counties with failing schools without local input.

Traditional public school advocates started fighting against the omnibus education package almost immediately after it passed.

Initially, 13 school boards filed suit, but in 2018 Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against the school boards, leading to three districts withdrawing.

The remaining 10 districts argued their case before the First District Court of Appeal.

Collier County, which filed a separate appeal, also made its case before the panel of judges.

The districts alleged the law is unconstitutional, because it requires districts to share property tax revenue with charter schools.

“They don’t have the money to build that new gym or that air conditioning system because the money is being directed elsewhere,” said Steve Brannock, an attorney representing the school boards.

But the state said the amount of money in dispute is insignificant.

“They would have to spend a very small portion, less than one percent, on their charter schools,” said Testani,an attorney representing the state.

In addition to money, the school boards said the law dilutes their authority by allowing charters, known as “schools of hope”, to open in chronically low performing areas without local approval.

“The statue clearly allows the schools of hope to apply directly to the state and bypass the school board,” said Brannock.

The state argued it has the right to intervene when a school district has consistently failed.

“The state surely is able to step in when school districts are not getting the job done,” said Testani.

The decision in this case could impact other cases challenging similar charter school expansions that were passed in 2018 and 2019.

“It’ll all depend on how the court comes out and what it says where the line is but it’ll certainly be important in looking at 7055 and any other future omnibus education bill and stopping this incremental creep of moving powers from the local officials to the state,” said Brannock.

A decision from the appellate court isn’t expected for months.

Regardless of the outcome, the State Supreme Court will likely have the final say.

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