Court jilts state in favor of local school control

Florida’s charter schools enjoy perks unavailable to public schools. The biggest for the industry? It doesn’t have to spend money on lobbyists because it owns the Republican Party. Tallahassee’s most outspoken cheerleader for charter schools is House Speaker Richard Corcoran whose wife, Anne, founded and runs a charter school.

 

The legislature is attacking public schools in several ways, but defunding them is at the core of the assault. At the same time, Corcoran spearheaded a “Schools of Hope” bill that narrowly passed in the Senate and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. It sets aside $140 million to lure new charter operations into the state or to expand existing ones. The money is paid out to charter operations for start-up costs including bricks and mortar.

It’s clearly welfare handed out to for-profit schools, and it comes out of county taxpayers’ pockets.

Opponents have other names for the beneficiaries of this partisan largesse: “Schools of False Hope” or “Schools of Nope.”

While shoving public tax money at private schools, lawmakers are also trying to subvert the oversight of these charter schools by local school boards. And they’ve done a darn good job at chipping away at it thus far.

This week, though, public schools won an important court battle.

An appeals court overturned a decision by the State Board of Education in favor of a local school board. The Indian River School Board denied two charter school applications filed by Somerset Academy in 2015.

The State Board of Education overrode the local decision. And Wednesday, the courts overrode the state, upholding the local school board’s oversight of charter schools.

The judges said that the Indian River board provided sufficient evidence of several issues, including that Somerset’s budget “was financially unrealistic and untenable.” It also found that Somerset had failed show it would comply with a federal desegregation order.

But perhaps the bigger win for public schools was the court’s adoption of a standard used previously in two other reversals of state oversight in Polk and Seminole Counties. That is local school boards need to have “clear and convincing” evidence in denials of charter school applications.

That’s a plateau already reached by most local school boards, and certainly our own.

What the ruling really says is if the local school boards treat charter applications fairly, they, not Tallahassee, decide what’s right and what’s wrong for their own school systems.

And that’s good for our schools and the kids they nurture.

 

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