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Fla. Court Rejects Charter Process

Authority Moves Back to Boards

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It may be harder for charter schools to get approval in Florida after an appellate court decision last week.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Dec. 2 struck down a 2006 law that lets applicants sidestep the state’s 67 county school boards by getting their charters from a state commission.

The law creating the Schools of Excellence Commission is in “total and fatal conflict” with the Florida Constitution, which gives the local boards—not the state—authority over public schools, Judge Edward T. Barfield wrote in the unanimous opinion.

He noted the commission is appointed by the state board of education, itself appointed by the governor, from recommendations by the governor, Senate president, and House speaker.

That means charter schools again will have to be approved by school boards, many of which are cool to the charter concept.

The ruling came in an appeal by the Duval County school district, one of 14 that challenged the law after the state board of education denied their requests to retain exclusive jurisdiction over charter schools. The law allowed such exceptions, but the state board denied a total of 28 requests while granting only three to local boards in Orange, Polk, and Sarasota counties.

State Education Commissioner Eric Smith said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.

“It reaffirms the importance of school boards,” said Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Duval County board. “The people have said we want an elected school board.”

Mr. Meyer, whose other clients include the Florida Education Association, called the ruling “far-reaching,” but said he didn’t know if it portends challenges to other parallel systems.

In a landmark case that Mr. Meyer argued on behalf of the union, the Florida Supreme Court used similar language in 2006 when it struck down a voucher program that sent students from failing public schools to private schools at taxpayer expense.

Vol. 28, Issue 15, Page 4

Published in Print: December 10, 2008, as Fla. Court Rejects Charter Process
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