Even before the ink on Gov. Rick Scott’s signature was dry, opponents of perhaps the most controversial bill to come out of this year’s regular legislative session were talking about a legal challenge.
Scott signed HB 7069 into law last Thursday afternoon despite the urging of public school advocates to veto the measure. They claim the law is designed to help charter schools at the expense of public schools.
“There’s a lot of concern with this bill. It’s one of the most comprehensive and, in my opinion, one of the most devastating bills this state has passed in years,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a former principal and school superintendent.
The bill was crafted in a series of closed door meetings in the House during the final days of the regular session. The final product emerged in the form of a massive 274-page piece of legislation with a price tag of $419 million.
The proposal combined ideas from 55 other pieces of legislation, including popular items–like mandatory recess for public elementary students and the expansion of the number of students with disabilities who receive financial assistance to pay for alternative education options.
Opponents say those “feel-good” items were included in order to make it difficult for legislators to vote against the bill.
What upsets critics about the law are provisions that make it easier for charter schools to move into areas with poor performing public schools.
School districts would be forced to share with those charter schools millions of local tax dollars intended for school construction. Opponents say that could devastate traditional public schools.
But, now that the bill has been signed into law, what recourse do critics have in the matter?
The Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher union, hasn’t ruled out the possibility of asking the courts to intervene. President Joanne McCall says “we are weighing all of our options at this point.”
The executive director of the Florida School Boards Association says don’t expect legal action from the association itself, but she wouldn’t be surprised if a challenge were to come from one or more of the local school districts.
“I do know that districts have been looking at whether or not authority has been usurped by this legislation,” said Andrea Messina. “And the only way to really determine that is with some judicial interpretation.
“I don’t know any district that has said that they are planning to sue. I don’t know any district that has said we are going to take them to court,” Messina added. “I do know there are districts that are looking at it carefully and as they continue to examine the ramifications of it. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.”
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents is another group that could weigh-in on the matter. The association did not return a phone call from The Capitolist at the time of this posting.
A request for a comment from House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s office also went unanswered.
HB 7069 was a priority for the House speaker and many believe it was used as a bargaining chip during the recent special legislative session in which Corcoran backed down from his calls to slash funding for two of the governor’s top priorities–Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
Less than a week after the special session ended and Scott received the funding he wanted for tourism marketing and economic development, he signed HB 7069 giving the House speaker his priority piece of legislation.