The Broward County School Board will challenge HB 7069, the controversial education bill passed in the closing days of the regular legislative session and signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott.
The decision by the board was approved during its meeting Wednesday morning.
Broward County is the first school board to announce its intentions to file a lawsuit against the state claiming the law is unconstitutional.
The board’s legal counsel says other school districts are expected to follow Broward’s lead. Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas counties are among the districts that could join the suit.
Critics argue the law benefits charter facilities by allowing them to tap into tax dollars that would go to traditional public schools. The law would also take away a school district’s authority to approve charter school applications.
The law would create the “Schools of Hope” program. Under that program, the state would put $140 million dollars into a fund that charter operators could access. The charters could use those tax dollars to open new schools in areas where elementary and middle schools have been rated D or F schools for at least three years in a row.
Broward County estimates it could lose at least $100 million in capital funds over the next five years as a result of the new law.
In addition to receiving tax dollars, the charter facilities would not be required to follow the same set of rules as do public schools.
In its challenge, Broward County schools will claim the law restricts the district from controlling and supervising all schools within its jurisdiction. It will also assert the tax sharing component violates the state constitution by permitting charter schools to use property taxes.
Public education advocates praised the Broward school board members for their action.
“The FEA applauds the Broward school board and superintendent for their bold move. We know our local, the Broward teachers union helped shape this decision,” said Joanne McCall, the president of the statewide teachers union. “We hope all the remaining districts will join them. It is long past time for the school boards and superintendents to stand up and speak out about the injustices placed on our public schools and the 2.8 million students we serve.”
The law was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who argues it will benefit the students in low-performing schools. He accuses opponents of wanting to maintain the status quo.
“This is another example of the educational bureaucracy putting the adults who administer the schools ahead of the children who attend the schools,” Corcoran said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon. “Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless, to sue to stop school children from getting recess, disabled children from getting funding, poor children from getting out of failure factories and teachers from getting more pay.”
Opponents criticized the way the bill was crafted in the closing days of this year’s regular session. A series of backroom negotiations resulted in a massive 278-page, $419 million dollar piece of legislation.
In addition to the charter school provisions, the bill included several other measures such as mandatory recess for elementary students, teacher bonuses and increased funding for scholarships for students with disabilities.
Critics insisted the bill included a variety of feel-good measures designed to encourage lawmakers to support the more controversial charter schools provisions.
The Broward school district has agreed to spend $25,000 to challenge the law.
While Broward is the first district to announce it will file suit challenging the law, it likely won’t be on its own for long. The other school boards reportedly considering entering suit are scheduled to meet in the next couple of weeks.