FL Education Law Blog
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Some very interesting information on how the Florida Charter sector is performing in comparison to the regular public schools.
According to Florida Department of Educationdata, Florida had more than 270,000 charter school studentsin the 2015-16 school year. More than 16 percent ofFlorida’s public schools are charters and 9 percentof students are enrolled in charters. Florida charterschools educate a majority-minority student population, with white students constituting only 33 percent of the studentbody total. . . .
A charter sector that continues to grow while NAEP cohort gains continue to improve should be welcomed and encouraging news for Floridians. However, one source of data measured in one way is not enough to draw conclusions about a sector as a whole. For instance, it could be that Florida charters performed so low on prior exams that large cohort gains, while encouraging, still represent low overall performance. In other words, it may be that they gained so much because they started so low.Overall NAEP scores tell us different, however. On all four exams, Florida charter schools scored better than both thenational average and Florida district average in 2015—often reflecting the large improvements measured by cohort gains.
The 4th DCA almost slid a decision by us that we had been waiting to see: the Appeal from the ALJ’s order in the St. Lucie Case charter school case. St. Lucie ALJ Charter Ruling. Oral argument had been set in this case and then rescheduled, and the Court disposed of oral argument and entered a Per Curiam Affirmed PCA on May 4th. So, the ALJ ruling has now been affirmed, and it is unlikely that a motion for rehearing or a written opinion will be granted.
This makes the ruling and analysis by the ALJ all the more important, since this was one of the first cases to explore to what extent a school district could adopt and attempt to enforce a local policy in conflict with the Charter school statute.
the nature of the dispute was
[W]hether the School Board can require Renaissance Charter School at Tradition to offer regular school bus transportation, to and from the school, for all students residing more than two miles from the school. . . .
Some good excerpts from the case are below:
[T]he School Board interprets Florida law and its
adopted School Board Policies 3.90 and 8.31 to require that all existing and future charter schools within the county provide regular school bus transportation for all students residing more than two miles from the charter school. . . .
Renaissance Charter School at Tradition has entered into a written agreement with parents of enrolled students, whereby the parents have expressly agreed to be responsible for the transportation of their children to and from school. These agreements are consistent with, and contemplated by, the plain and unambiguous language of section 1002.33(20)(c). . . .
The Legislature specifically recognized that charter schools should have greater flexibility than traditional public schools. Parents choose to send their children to charter schools, knowing full-well that they may reside more than two miles from the charter school, and that their traditional public school may be located much closer to their residence than the charter school. . . .
The undersigned concludes, as matter of law, that School Board Policy 3.90(11) is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority because it modifies and contravenes the charter school statute, specifically sections 1002.33(20)(c), 1002.33(6)(h), and 1002.33(5)(b)1.d.
Based on this decision, a student government case can’t be brought unless the action complained of violates a law other than just the internal policies relating to student government. In other words, a violation of SGA rules alone does not a court case make.
The First District Court of Appeal said it agrees with FAMU and recommended Bruno’s case be dismissed. A three-judge panel said FAMU’s elections dispute didn’t belong in the circuit court because Bruno had not identified any state or federal laws that had been broken. The appellate court recommended the case be dismissed.“The complaint did not cite — nor did the trial court identify — any state law that was conceivably violated by the Student Supreme Court’s decision to hold a new university-wide election,” the judges said in the opinion.
An appeals court Friday said it is up to the Florida Department of Education to handle a complaint from a parent who argues her children should receive more aid under the state’s John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program. Court Opinion The 5th District Court of Appeal sided with the Seminole County School Board in a dispute with a parent identified only by the initials A.F. The voucher-like McKay program provides money for students with disabilities to attend private schools. After receiving requests from parents who want their children to participate in the program, school districts must complete “matrices” for services that help determine how much money will be provided, according to the appeals-court ruling. In the Seminole County case, A.F. filed a complaint with the school district contending that the matrices for her two children were incorrect, which would result in them receiving less scholarship money than they should. The county school board, however, dismissed the complaint and said A.F. needed to take the dispute to the Department of Education. A three-judge panel of the appeals court issued a seven-page ruling Friday that agreed with the school board. The ruling said that under state law, “the Legislature has given the DOE the primary responsibility for the administration of the McKay scholarship program. Furthermore … the DOE has the authority to compel school district compliance with the program’s requirements.”
Previously, the panel was made up of the following: eight teachers; five administrators, including at least one from a private school; seven lay citizens, five of whom are parents of public school students and are unrelated to public school employees, and two of whom are former school board members; and five sworn law enforcement officials.Under the new law, the panel will include: 10 teachers; five administrators, including at least one from a private or virtual school; four lay citizens who are parents of public schools students and who are unrelated to public school employees; two former school board or charter school governing board members or former superintendents, assistant superintendents or deputy superintendents; and four sworn law enforcement officials.
Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a trial court and held that the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act did not violate Oklahoma’s constitutional ban on direct or indirect aid to sectarian institutions (Blaine Amendment). Here is the full Opinion.
Relevant excerpts below:
Thus, the question we must resolve is whether under the conditions outlined in the Act, does the deposit of scholarship funds to a private sectarian school constitute “public money” being “applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use,benefit, or support of a sectarian institution. Factors that impact our analysis include : (I). voluntary participation by families in scholarship program; (2) genuine independent choice by parent or legal guardian in selecting sectarian or non-sectarian private school; (3) payment warrant issued to parent or legal guardian; ( 4) parent endorses payment to independently chosen private school; (5) Act is religion neutral with respect to criteria to become an approved school for scholarship program; ( 6) each public school district has the option to contract with a private school to provide mandated special educational services instead of providing services in the district; (7) acceptance of the scholarship under the Act serves as parental revocation of all federally guaranteed rights due to children who qualify for services under 70 O.S. 2012 Supp., §13-101.2 (F); and (8) the district public school is relieved of its obligation to provide educational services to the
child with disabilities as long as the child utilizes the scholarship.
We are persuaded that the Act is completely neutral with regard to religion and that any funds deposited to a sectarian school occur as the sole result of the parent’s independent decision completely free from state influence . The scholarship payment warrant is made to the parent who then endorses funds to the private school the parent determined was best suited to provide special education services to their child with a disability. The Act is void of any suggestion or inference to favor religion or any particular sect. Private schools are chosen by the parent from private schools that are approved by meeting objective state educational standards irrespective of religious preference. The parent, not the State, determines where the scholarship funds will be applied. We are satisfied that under this scenario , the State is not adopting sectarian principles or providing monetary support of any particular sect. . . . We hold the Oklahoma “Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act”, a school voucher program limited to provide educational choices for children with disabilities, does not violate Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.
This article about Paramount Charter School in Broward came out about a week ago, and seemed to point out some serious problems at the charter school. Yet, as the below quote sets out, once again, a district school board member is saying that there is nothing that can be done, regulation is too weak. I hope that this board member talks to the district legal counsel, because this understanding of the law is incorrect. While a charter school may only be terminated immediately for a health, safety, welfare problem, (not sure that is not present based on the reporting), and charter performance is a factor to be considered (shocked if all the teacher turnover has not hurt performance) a charter school may be terminated for material violations of the charter contract with a 90 day notice of termination, and of course, the threat of termination can often be used by a district to get charter contract compliance short of termination. Having read Broward charter contracts in the past, the reporting, if true, seems to flag numerous charter contract problems. So, the School District may chose not to act, they get to make that choice, but school board members should not be allowed to loosely say that they have no means to address the problems.
Broward County school board member Laurie Rich Levinson voiced frustration about the situation at the school, saying the board has received complaints and been to the school, which she said has had three principals already this year. But she said that because of a lack of regulation coming from Tallahassee, there is little the board can do about the problems. She said without a record of performance failures, which can take two years to establish, the school board’s hands are tied unless there is a health or safety risk.
The Palm Beach School District is in the news again for charter school denials, denying three charters this week, as set out in the below article. Unfortunately, they are becoming one of the of the most hostile districts to charters in Florida, as is evidenced by the current appeal in which they are challenging the constitutionality of the charter school appeal process. Districts should not approve every charter, but I have seen Palm Beach deny strong charters that should have been approved. Even the two dropout prevention charters that were approved this time -when that charter operator first came into Palm Beach with strong applications- they were also denied and had to win on appeal- I remember, because I represented them on that appeal.
The Palm Beach County School Board has denied three charter applications, in part because they failed to show how they would offer “innovative” alternatives to the district’s traditional campuses – a reasoning the district is already in court to defend.The lack of innovation wasn’t the only shortcoming its staff highlighted in its recommendations to deny the charters. It concluded the schools fell short on a variety of marks from curriculum to financial planning.But charter advocate Ralph Arza, a former state legislator who helped craft Florida’s charter law, contends the district is acting illegally, driven by the need to stem the flow of its cash to charter operators.“The law says you have to have clear and convincing evidence to deny,” said Arza, now spokesman for Florida Charter School Alliance. “They are finding ways to deny charters and in doing so they are becoming ground-zero for anti-charter school action.”