Legal Questions Loom Over High-Achieving Charter Schools Bill as Challenges Move to Appellate Courts

In the Lakeland Ledger:

TALLAHASSEE | Battles over the Florida Board of Education’s approval of two new charter schools in Polk and Seminole counties are headed to appeals courts, lawyers said Friday.

The state board last month overturned county decisions to reject proposals by Renaissance Charter School Inc. to open schools for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Polk and Seminole school boards filed lawsuits in December in Leon County to try to block the state board from taking up the proposals. But a circuit judge refused to grant a temporary injunction, clearing the way for the state board’s votes.

The counties dropped the circuit-court cases this week.

Frederick J. Murphy, a lawyer for the Polk County School Board, said the state board’s Polk County decision will be challenged in the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

Also, Seminole County is expected to challenge the state board in the 5th District Court of Appeal.

The disputes center, at least in part, on a 2011 law that changed the way “high performing” charter schools are reviewed. Renaissance says its proposals in Polk and Seminole counties would replicate a high-performing school in another part of the state.

Renaissance is part of Charter Schools USA “family of schools”. CEO Jonathan Hage couldn’t be more well-connected if he lived in a bedroom at the governor’s mansion and he’s paid well for the access, too. According to records in the National Institute On Money in State Politics, Hage made 21 separate contributions to the Republican Party of Florida during the last decade totalling just over $100 thousand. Hage also was a member of Rick Scott’s education transition team.

The question that remains is whether or not the Florida Board of Education is abusing the spirit of the 2011 high performing charter school bill. SB 1546, stipulates that high-performing charters are limited to one replication a year.  As both Renaissance and Charter Schools USA were successfully replicated via the BOE’s appeals process, its fair to suggest that Hage has succeeded in doing an end-around, perhaps benefiting from his access.

As Hage’s charter’s – among others – were rejected by local school boards and subsequently overruled by the BOE, real “choice” issues that mirror those of Obamacare scream to be addressed. Under SB 1546 and its subsequent enforcement by the BOE, a local school district can be forced to take on a contract it does not want. And like with Obama’s Solyndra, are Rick Scott, the BOE and his legislative allies, picking winners and losers in charter schools over public schools?

Equally disturbing is the manner in which charter school’s propogandists have been using SB 1546 as a rhetorical tool.  Rick Scott and education commissioner Gerard Robinson spoke at charter school pep rally in Tallahassee in February. In the run-up to the rally, Florida’s top charter school lobbyist, Cheri Shannon, told the media that “we need districts to follow the law, ” as “districts have set up roadblocks to allowing charter schools to offer parents a choice from the public education path.”

Shannon, who’s salary is paid for by the Walton family,  clearly used SB 1546 in an attempt to intimidate the state’s local school boards. Looks like at least two local boards in Polk and Seminole counties aren’t backing down from well-funded, powerful charter school interests.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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