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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Court rules against Florida Schools of Excellence



Local school districts no longer have to worry about charter school applicants doing an end run to the state to win the right to operate.

Florida's First District Court of Appeals found the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission "facially unconstitutional" in a series of opinions issued this morning. (See the main one, Duval County School Board v. State Board of Education.)

The law establishing the FSE is in fatal conflict with Article IX of the Florida Constitution, the court states, in that it creates a "parallel system of free public education escaping the operation and control of local elected school boards." Several school districts, including Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando, challenged the law.

The court cites Bush vs. Holmes, which struck down the state's voucher system, as precedent. It continued:

"The further arguments that the statute authorizes the Department of Education to permit the districts to retain exclusive control over the chartering of schools and permits districts to retain control over charter schools sponsored by district boards provide no salvation as the statute also provides the vehicles to remove that authority, relegating local boards to essentially ministerial functions."

FSE executive director Frank Atkisson told the Gradebook that the decision was "not unexpected." Atkisson said if the group is allowed to continue, he intends to take the commission in a new direction.

"My thought is the FSE needs to be taking a different approach to granting charters," Atkisson said.

The goal will be to come into areas where a public school is chronically failing, analyze the educational needs there and determine whether competition might help. The commission would then create a franchise, if necessary, and seek charter companies to bid on coming in as competition to the school.

Another effort would entail the commission bringing a charter operator in to take over the school itself for a limited time, perhaps up to five years, on the argument that the students there are not receiving a high-quality public education.

"At what point do we tolerate in our society the continued operating of a school that is consistently failing?" Atkisson wondered.

The FSE has discussed remaining a chartering agency for districts that seek out its services. So far, Brevard and Alachua have inquired about contracting the commission to grant charters for them.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:06am]


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