The charter bypass


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:19 a.m.
So far, test score comparisons have not shown charter schools to be inherently superior to public schools. But state legislators have never allowed a little thing like empirical evidence to get in the way of promoting a favorite quick-fix education "reform." Charter schools are wildly popular in political circles, even if they haven't as yet proven their worth "on the ground."
So a new state law established the artfully-named Florida Schools of Excellence Commission and vested it with the authority to award new charters to charter schools. Essentially, lawmakers decided that locally elected school boards could not be be trusted to make such weighty decisions. And never mind that, once approved, charter schools are entitled to their share of the funding that their local school boards allocate each year. Under the new law, a school board must appeal to Tallahassee for a measure of local control if it thinks a local charter school proposal is unsound.
So what's wrong with that? For one thing, it flies in the face of a state constitutional provision that invests locally elected school boards, not appointed state commissions, with authority to "operate, control and supervise all free public schools" within their jurisdictions.
Did the Legislature go too far? Almost certainly. But lawmakers are so accustomed to overriding the home rule authority of local governments that they likely didn't give this latest preemption a second thought. But now they may have to.
Several school boards, including Alachua County's, have filed suit to challenge the new law. "The commission is an appointed body appointed by another appointed body - the state Board of Education," Ron Meyer, attorney for the Florida School Boards Association, told reporters this week. "That is inconsistent with the requirement that there be an elected school board to oversee public schools."
We don't normally approve of one government suing another, because invariably taxpayers ending up footing the legal costs for both sides. But this law raises important questions about constitutional separation of powers that demand judicial resolution. Whether or not charter schools prove to be superior to public schools, we question the Legislature's authority to marginalize the role of school boards in authorizing and overseeing them.

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