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Lawsuit Against Ed Law Moves Forward As State Names 'Schools of Hope'

Illinois Network of Charter Schools

More than a dozen school districts are challenging a law requiring them to share local construction funds with charter schools. But  some of those same districts also getting a portion of the extra funding the new law provides.

Thirteen Florida school districts filed suit recently on House Bill 7069—at issue: multiple parts of the bill they claim are unconstitutional. The measure is wide-ranging, and the suing districts have taken issue with language requiring them to steer more federal funding directly to privately run charter schools. Those schools are also given a financial incentive to set up shop near low performing traditional schools and some could get leeway to operate as a district within a district. But one of the bigger complaints against the law is a provision making school districts share their local construction dollars with charters.

“When local dollars that are collected are forced to be shared…now, we’re looking at losing $250 million over that [10-year] period…it’s troublesome,' says Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa.

That’s Palm Beach County Superintendent Robert Avossa in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog. His district is also suing over the law, but its challenge is separate and narrowed only to the local revenue issue. Still, he says…

“There are like 200 elements to this bill. We’re just arguing on one—the forced distribution of these dollars. We think, if they want competition. Competition they will have.”

As 14 districts move forward with their lawsuits, some, including Palm Beach, also requested funding offered up from the bill. Bay County in North Florida along with Palm Beach recently got dollars under the “Schools of Hope” provision. That part of the bill gives up to $2,000 per student to lift perpetually failing schools.  The Florida Department of Education received 57 applications for the grant and could have issued awards to up to 25 schools. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart decided on 11, and says she based her decision on the likelihood of success.

“It is these eleven based on the review, as I look at them, that I feel confident in their ability to have success with this additional $2,000 per student.”

Stewart announced the recipients at a recent State Board of Education meeting. That means there are 14 slots still available.

“We will reopen the application process and we will allow those schools who meet the criteria to apply," says Stewart. "And we will be announcing those dates very soon of when those applications should be to us and we will come back before the board.”

Still, the conflict between schools asking for dollars under the law while suing over it remains a point of frustration for its biggest supporters. House Speaker Richard Corcoran who has accused districts like Bay and Palm Beach of being hypocritical.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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