HB 7069 took PECO facility funding away from charters with two school grades below a ‘C’ in a row. Their argument? School grades are not a measure of quality! Districts have made a similar argument regarding the requirement to turn over low performing schools to charters.
An administrative judge upheld the facility funding regulation last year, and on June 5th, the appeal will be heard before a panel of three judges. There are some other concerns as well. Chief among them is the argument that the regulation should not count grades earned before the law was enacted. A lot of public money is at stake, and the DOE is scrambling to amend its regulation.
Here’s the latest story:
Charter school appeal of construction money rules set for June hearing
By Daniel Ducassi
04/23/2018 05:05 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE — A state appellate court on Monday set a June hearing date for an appeal challenging the state’s rules for determining whether charter schools are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in public construction funding.
Lawyers for Aspira Raul Arnaldo Martinez Charter School, Miami Community Charter Middle School and the Florida Association of Independent Charter Schools originally brought an administrative legal challenge to the Florida Department of Education’s changes to the eligibility rules soon after they were adopted in March 2017.
An administrative law judge last year upheld the validity of the rule, leading the charter schools to appeal.
Now the schools will get to make their case the morning of June 5 in front of a panel of three appellate judges: T. Kent Wetherell II, Lori S. Rowe and Thomas D. Winokur.
The crux of the schools’ arguments is that the new rule’s use of school grades to determine eligibility for the first time “changes the statutory definition of ‘satisfactory student achievement’ and bases it solely on the grade of the school.”
They argue that because the “satisfactory student achievement” requirement in the law should be based on individual student performance, rather than the 11 components used to determine school grades — a process they say is governed largely by the Florida Department of Education.
One of the schools received “D” grades for 2016 and 2017, while the other feared it may also earn consecutive “D” grades when it brought the challenge. Lawyers for the charter school litigants argue that the rule, which makes ineligible schools that have received an “F” grade or two consecutive “D” grades, unfairly excludes them from the funding.
But DOE lawyers argue that school grades are an aggregate measure of student achievement and “schools with consistent poor performance are in danger of closing, and it is logical for the state to restrict the use of taxpayer funds to these schools.” They also note that much of the process for how school grades are determined is laid out in state statute.
The interpretation of the rule that schools with consecutive “D” grades are ineligible is itself the subject of another administrative legal challenge. An unrelated central Florida charter school that DOE determined was ineligible for the construction money argues that a plain reading of the rule indicates education officials should be looking only at school grades going forward, and not counting previous-year performance. A hearing in that case is scheduled for next week by video teleconference in Tampa and Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, state education officials are looking to amend those very rule provisions at subject in both cases. The department is holding a workshop on Thursday about their proposed changes.
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