Academic journal article Education Next

Another Lemon: Florida's Charters under Attack

Academic journal article Education Next

Another Lemon: Florida's Charters under Attack

Article excerpt

Florida's public school establishment could hardly have a better friend than Florida's courts.

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In Bush v. Holmes (2006), the state supreme court struck down Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program, a small voucher program serving fewer than 800 students, on the grounds that it fell afoul of the state constitution's "uniformity" clause, which allegedly prevents the state from funding any program outside of or "parallel" to the public school system.

Florida judges have been at it again. Late in 2008, a lower court struck down the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, which was formed at Governor Jeb Bush's urging in 2006 to provide alternative authorization for charter schools. Without the Excellence Commission, only local school boards can authorize new charter schools. School districts understandably can be loath to see their pupils--and, more important, the state funding that follows them--go to charter schools.

The statute that created the Excellence Commission allowed local school boards to petition the state board of education to retain exclusive authority to sanction charter schools within their districts. Thirty-one of Florida's 67 local school districts requested such exemptions, but the state board granted only three: to Orange, Polk, and Sarasota, districts that had already created a significant number of charter schools (20, 24, and 9, respectively).

In response to having been denied an exemption, 14 districts led by Duval County challenged the constitutionality of the commission and thus sought to preserve their exclusive authority over chartering. The attorney representing the Duval school board, Ron Meyer, had also represented the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, when it challenged the Opportunity Scholarship program in Holmes.

The plaintiff districts claimed that the commission fatally violated a provision of the state constitution holding that the local "school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district." The court agreed with the school districts and went beyond just striking down the commission. Harking back to Bush v. Holmes, it ruled that the "statute [creating the commission] permits and encourages the creation of a parallel system of free public education escaping the operation and control of local elected school boards. …

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