Charles Dickens says….

I am really careful about my tone. I want to be factual and respectful. But, I had this phrase ringing in my head today about the charter school law. I will be restrained. Nevertheless, in Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble has a classic line about inappropriate, inaccurate laws. Anyone remember what it was??

Citizens for Strong Schools Appeal on Tuesday: Watch!

Southern Legal Counsel will be arguing for a high quality education for all children before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee on July 18 at 9:00 am. Last year, in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Fla. State Board of Education, after a four-week trial, the trial court found many problems in Florida’s education system, but ruled against the plaintiffs. The court believed that he could not order a remedy without violating separation of powers. You can watch the argument live streamed at:  http://www.1dca.org/ustream.html

Districts to Sue the State over Charters

The Broward School Board voted to sue the State of Florida over HB 7069’s requirement to share local capital outlay funding with charter schools. As reported in the blog earlier, this new law has a massive impact on districts. The new law violates the provision that local school boards, not the State are responsible for the oversight and operation of schools. The Schools of Hope would essentially seize schools in low income areas who have low performing students.

Sharing local property taxes with charters is also unconstitutional.

Miami-Dade, Pinellas, and Orange County are also considering joining the lawsuit.

This ‘anything goes’ legislature may find that ‘not everything goes’ especially our public schools.

See today’s Sun Sentinel

Indian River Schools Lawsuit Over Shared Local Funding With Charters

Sometimes political maneuvering can come to haunt you. Indian River’s school district decided back in 2012 to share a portion of the revenue from a local sales tax initiative with their charter schools. They did not have to, but charters were only 5% of the total enrollment, and most were locally owned and operated charters. Then the world changed.

For the past two years, the Indian River School District has been in court. Local charter schools claim that money for school operations, teachers etc., that the district voluntarily provided to them is no longer adequate. Why? The charter schools’ enrollment has increased from 5% to 12%. The amount of money involved is $2 million dollars out of a total of $9 million in revenue.

The legal questions are not straight forward. By law, districts are not required to share revenue that local communities vote to provide through a sales tax or local referendum. The district agreed to share with charters when there were fewer students. Now the money involved is large enough to hurt the district schools.

The charters went to court in 2015 and won in the circuit court this year. The district is considering an appeal. At issue is at what point are there too many schools to support in an area? Should communities be forced to accept more charters even if they bring nothing new or better? Is expansion of charters for the sake of expansion a good thing?

Take a look at the Indian River charters and who they serve:

  1. Indian River Charter High School: This is a 656 student school serving about 80% upper income white students and 4% black students. It was founded in 1998.
  2. Imagine Schools at South Vero: The enrollment is about 890 students serving about 80% white, upper income students since about 2008. It was opened by what was then a for-profit management firm.
  3. North County Charter: About 321 elementary school children attend this school. They represent the county’s distribution of race and ethnicity. It is a family managed school.
  4. Sebastian Charter had 287 junior high school students who are two-thirds white and one-third Hispanic. The proportion of students on FRL is slightly higher than the district’s. They took a new school construction loan in 2012.
  5. St. Peter’s Academy is a small elementary school with about 129 black and Hispanic, mostly lower income students. It opened in 1996.

What has happened in Indian River is common in other communities. Most charters are either mostly white, mostly black or mostly Hispanic. A few are more balanced. As these schools grow, they need more money. It has to come from the same pot of money the district has. Soon, funds get tight and relationships get tense.

At some point, the State of Florida has to decide whether to curb unregulated charter growth that does not result in improving education for everyone. It makes me think of the old adage of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Catching Up: Which bills are signed? Another look at the Court

Schoolhouse Consulting Group brings us up to date with federal and state education actions. Their take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is less certain than the NEA’s. No doubt there are members of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission who will use this decision to attack the Blaine Amendment. Voters will have to decide if they want public money to cover vouchers to private schools. Of course it indirectly does now through the tax credit scholarships. At some point citizens have to decide if all those standards and tests required for public schools should be required for private schools. What’s the expression? Isn’t it ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’?

Here’s the summary from Schoolhouse:

Federal
 
The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a Missouri law that could have ramifications for Florida’s Constitutional prohibition of state or local funds being used directly or indirectly in the aid of any church, religious denomination or sectarian institution, the so-called “Blaine Amendment.”
 
The 7-2 ruling case involves denial of state funds to a church as a grant to use shredded scrap material from tires for its playground. The high court ruled the Missouri Blaine Amendment language violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling can be viewed here.
 
In Florida, efforts to create scholarships or vouchers for students to attend sectarian schools began in 1999 with passage of the A+ Plan. A 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled “opportunity scholarships” unconstitutional, but not based on Article 1, section 3. In 2012, voters defeated (44.5 “yes” vote with 60% needed to be adopted) Amendment 8 that read: (Article 1, Section 3) There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution. Underlined wording was new and strike-though language would have been removed.
 
Both U.S. Education Secretary Betsy deVos and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were quick to hail the ruling. For Florida, it will likely lend support to a renewed effort to put something similar to Amendment 8 on the 2018 ballot, either through the Legislature or Constitutional Revision Commission. It may also spur some in Congress to re-open Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and seek a scholarship/voucher-like program in the coming months. In addition to Florida and Missouri, 37 other states have similar constitutional language.
 
State
 
Governor Rick Scott has now signed nearly all education bills that passed the regular and special sessions. Today, of note, he signed HB3A which is the special session bill appropriating an additional $100/students in the Florida Education Finance program. He also signed:
 
HB 0015 Relating to Educational Options (Sullivan) – expanded Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit scholarships
HB 0781 Relating to Designation of School Grades (Porter) – defined how school centers having grades K-3 will be graded
HB 0899 Relating to Comprehensive Transitional Education Programs (Stevenson) – Authorizes Agency for Persons with Disabilities to petition for appointment of receiver for comprehensive transitional education program
HB 0989 Relating to Instructional Materials (Donalds) – clarifies right of parents and residents to provide input to district selection/adoption of instructional materials and sets appeals process to be conducted by a hearing officer
HB 1079 Relating to Pub. Rec. and Meetings/Campus Emergency Response for Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions (Rommel) – Provides exemption from public records requirements for specified portions of campus emergency response for public postsecondary educational institutions;
HB 1109 Relating to Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities (Antone) – allows students at non-FHSAA schools to be eligible to play for local FHSAA schools
HB 1239 Relating to School Bus Safety (Eagle) -Provides for mandatory noncriminal penalties, fine, driver license suspension, & driver license points for certain violations resulting in serious bodily injury to/death of another person.
 

Supreme Court Decision on Public Funds to Private Schools Today

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision (7-2) allowed the State of Missouri to pave a playground at a private school, but not much else.

Here’s a take on the decision from the N.E.A.

Friends – busy news day, but wanted to share NEA’s statement on an important SCOTUS decision today on the Trinity Lutheran case, which we were watching closely as it addressed the use of public funding for religious institutions. Clearly we had concerns about how the decision could impact state laws when it came to voucher programs. Ultimately, as you can see below in the  statement we just released, the Court’s ruling was overall positive from our vantage point. It was narrow in focus, so it didn’t offer broad interpretation that any state prohibition on voucher funding is unconstitutional. If you have questions, please let us know if you have any additional questions or needs.
 
The topline message:
 
·         This was a setback for those who were hoping for a road to require states to take public school dollars to give to private and religious schools.  It was so narrowly written – to cover resurfacing playgrounds – that it left intact a state’s ability to interpret what separation of church and state means in that state and left intact state constitutional provisions that prevent the diversion of public school funding to private religious schools.  
 
·         That means voucher proponents will continue to face both significant public policy and substantial legal obstacles to any effort to expand school voucher programs.  
 
·         This is good outcome for the 90% of American students who attend public schools.
 
 
 
http://www.nea.org/home/70944.htm

Appeals Court to hear Citizens for Strong Schools Case

I just received the following announcement from the Southern Legal Counsel:

Please be advised that the oral argument in the appellate case is scheduled for 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Courtroom One at the First District Court of Appeal located at 2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee, Florida.

If you can go, do. The League strongly supports the plaintiffs in this case.

Want to brush up on the arguments? Basically it comes down to whether or not Florida’s system is following the constitutional requirement for a uniform, safe, efficient and high quality system for ALL students.

I reviewed the closing arguments in the initial case. You can read them on the blog here:

Citizens for Strong Schools Closing Arguments

Florida For-profit Charter Chain Racketeering Charge

How often do we need to hear the same thing before the legislature will act. For profit charter management is an open invitation to fraud. These charter management companies have hidden affiliated companies that do what they want out of public view.

Tbo News reports that racketeering charges have been filed against Marcus May and his associate who run 15 Newpoint charter schools in Florida (Bay County, Jacksonville, Hillsborough, Pinellas). The story underscores the League’s constant refrain: The Legislature must enact measures to correct charter school fraud and abuse. For the past two years, the legislature has rejected first Senator Gaetz’s call for reform legislation and then Senator Simmon’s measures to correct charter mismanagement. What does it take to get action?

These Newpoint related companies are a maze of legal entities that are banded together to make it impossible for local citizens to know where their tax payer dollars are going. Newpoint’s affiliated companies include School Warehouse and Red Ignition. They overcharged for computers, filed fake enrollment reports, extracted large fees, and used money to pay for expensive vacations, personal home, and on and on.

Fifty-seven million dollars of public money was given to this group. Millions were stolen. Initially they were under investigation for giving fake grades to students. Now they face charges of grand theft, money laundering, and white collar crime along with their racketeering charges. They recognize no limits.

Supreme Court Supports Standards for Students with Disabilities

Are schools expected to do more than provide minimum educational standards for students with special needs.  According to this report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students with disabilities must be given the opportunity to make ‘appropriately ambitious progress’ consistent with federal law.

Approximately thirteen percent of all children between 3-21 have some type of disability.  Complaints that students are given minimal academic standards triggered the lawsuit.  In this case, Endrew v. Douglas, Endrew was a fifth grade autistic boy whose IEP plan had not changed from one year to the next.  The family withdrew him from public school and enrolled him in a private school where he did make progress.  The family then sued for tuition reimbursement.

Florida Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Supporting OPT OUT Parents

The Florida Appeals Court stated that the Leon County district court did not have jurisdiction over parents’ complaints about third grade retention based upon the Florida Statewide Assessment scores.  Instead, the court determined that the lawsuits should have been filed in local district courts where parents resided.  According to the Orlando Sentinel report, the Appeals Court ruling declared that the state assessment had a laudable purpose to ‘assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before or after being promoted to fourth grade’.