School boards challenge new charter school group
Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 10:53 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — A new state commission that can authorize the creation of charter schools without approval from local school boards is facing a legal challenge.
The Florida School Boards Association and nine individual boards sued in Circuit Court here Dec. 15 on grounds the Legislature unconstitutionally delegated the elected boards' authority to the appointed Florida Schools of Excellence Commission.
No hearing or trial dates had been set as of Wednesday.
A law passed last year allows applicants who want to set up the independently operated but taxpayer-supported schools to bypass local boards by obtaining charters from the seven-member commission. School boards, though, can appeal to the commission for permission to retain exclusive control of charters in their counties.
"The commission is an appointed body appointed by another appointed body — the state Board of Education," said Ron Meyer, a lawyer representing the school boards. "That is inconsistent with the requirement that there be an elected school board to oversee public schools."
The Florida Constitution says school boards "operate, control and supervise all free public schools" within their respective counties.
The law's sponsor, former Rep. Ron Greenstein, D-Coconut Creek, said the provision allowing boards to seek exclusive control of charters meets the constitutional requirement. Greenstein, who was term-limited out the House, said school boards never raised the constitutional issue when the bill was going through the legislative process.
"It's a little unfounded at this point," he said. "They had plenty of opportunity and they didn't do it."
Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cathy Schroeder said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
"The lawsuit is premature considering that the commission hasn't done anything yet," said Florida Consortium of Charter Schools spokeswoman Lynn Norman-Teck.
Charter advocates see the commission as a means to spread the concept. More than 92,000 students attended 333 charter schools in Florida last year, according to the Department of Education. Total public school enrollment was 2.6 million.
The county school districts participating in the suit are Alachua, Broward, Duval, Flagler, Hernando, Lee, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Johns.
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