1. Education

Broward sues over massive education bill as other Florida counties consider joining in

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, looks on as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran speaks during a stop in Tampa last month to announce their 2017 legislative successes, including a sweeping education bill. On Wednesday, the Broward County School Board decided to sue the Legislature over the bill, contending it violates the state Constitution. Corcoran called the suit "clueless" and "arguably heartless." [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jul. 6, 2017

Just days after it took effect, the sweeping and controversial education bill signed into Florida law last month faces a court challenge.

The Broward County School Board decided Wednesday to sue the state over HB 7069, which creates a new charter school system and requires school districts to share tax revenue for capital projects such as construction and maintenance. The board contends the measure violates the Florida Constitution.

Broward's action could open the floodgates for other school boards to join in.

Sen. Gary Farmer 'pretty confident' legal challenge to HB 7069 will come

Gov. Rick Scott signs HB 7069 education bill into law at Orlando Catholic school

"I've had a number of members of boards reach out to me since 7069 got signed. The question I keep getting is, 'What is everyone else doing?'" said Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "I suspect this will sort of pave the way for these conversations to get on the agendas."

The Pinellas County School Board is among those in the more advanced stages of considering whether to join the challenge.

"At our last workshop, our attorney David Koperski said he was having conversations with attorneys around the state, talking about some things they are concerned about as far as violating the Constitution in that bill," board member Carol Cook said in an interview. "We said, continue the conversation. We'll discuss it when we have more information."

Cook said the item could return to the board at its July 18 workshop. She stressed that Pinellas is not as close to a decision as Broward was.

Reached by email Wednesday, Koperski said he believes there are "legal grounds to challenge some of the components" of the new law and would update the School Board soon.

"It's not going to be an easy decision," Cook said, noting the bill and a legal battle have many pros and cons.

Other districts in the Tampa Bay area are in a wait-and-see mode.

"I haven't talked to any of the board members at all," Hillsborough County School Board attorney Jim Porter said. "We're just sort of watching."

Dennis Alfonso, the lawyer for the Pasco and Hernando school boards, said he had heard rumblings of lawsuit talk, but his boards have had no discussions about joining.

A legal challenge to the law, which Gov. Rick Scott signed in mid-June despite heavy pressure for a veto, had been anticipated.

Several key lawmakers hinted broadly that the bill could not meet the constitutional requirement for focusing on a single subject. The Florida Constitution states that all laws "shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title."

HB 7069 includes more than 60 topics, by some counts — from teacher bonuses and mandated school recess to testing changes and an array of measures that encourage the expansion of charter schools.

That's not the only constitutional concern that Broward's lawyers alleged in a 10-page memo that the board reviewed Wednesday.

They also argued the Legislature violated school boards' constitutional authority to operate, control and supervise all public schools in their districts. They cited the creation of a new "schools of hope" system that will allow charters to take over for failing traditional public schools. And they contended the new law, which took effect July 1, violated the constitutional rules regarding school taxes, with the requirement that districts distribute a portion of their capital funding to charters.

Messina said several board members across Florida have viewed the law as a seizing of their constitutional powers.

"What does one do when they believe one's authority is usurped? They have to ask for an interpretation of that" in court, she said.

Not all school board members had the same reaction, though.

The more conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members stated on its Twitter account, "It is both unfortunate and unsurprising that Broward Schools would take this action to continue discrimination against public charter students."

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who made the legislation his priority during the session, said in a statement that Broward's lawsuit was "another example of the educational bureaucracy putting the adults who administer the schools ahead of the children who attend the schools."

He added: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless, to sue to stop school children from getting recess, disabled children from getting funding, poor children from getting out of failure factories and teachers from getting more pay."

Critics of the legislation cheered Broward's move on Facebook and other social media, and encouraged their own boards to enter the fray. They held out little hope that lawmakers would "fix" any problems identified in the law, as some in the Legislature proposed during debate.

Even before the lawsuit became known, House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. indicated change won't be coming soon.

"It's way too premature," said Diaz, a Hialeah Republican. "Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun."

Times-Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.


  1. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  2. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  5. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  8. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  9. Former Pinellas school guardian Erick Russell, 37, is accused of pawning the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, body armor and two magazines he was issued to protect students, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He told deputies he needed gas money. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    Those allegations came to light after his arrest on charges of domestic battery and false imprisonment. He was fired by the Pinellas County School District.
  10. This image from a Pinellas County Schools video shows an armed police officer running to respond to a fictional active shooter.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.