Charter School OK a Local Decision, Not State's, Court Rules; A State Panel Created to Make Such Decisions Is Unconstitutional

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Byline: TOPHER SANDERS

Local school districts and not a state commission should have sole authority to approve charter school applications, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday.

The decision came in an appeal by the Duval County School Board, which along with St. Johns County, was among 14 school boards to challenge as unconstitutional the legislation that created the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission.

The seven-member commission was formed in 2006 to authorize and supervise charter schools throughout the state. Charter applicants were able to apply to their local school board or the state body for approval.

A three-judge panel in Tuesday's ruling said the legislation creating the commission ran counter to the state constitution, which says school boards will "operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district."

The ruling is a victory the state's school boards, said Joel Toomey, attorney for the Duval County School Board.

"What the court is saying is that to allow a separate state entity to be able to authorize, operate, control and supervisor charter schools violates the provision which gives that authority to the school board," Toomey said.

Duval School Board Chairman Tommy Hazouri called the ruling an endorsement for local control.

"It's about home rule," Hazouri said. "The reason we challenged it is because we felt school districts were being undermined in their ability to permit charter schools. …