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Florida Supreme Court rejects districts’ challenge to charter school law

The case against HB 7069 had been moving through the courts for three years.

Nine Florida school districts have lost their final legal effort to overturn a controversial 2017 law they contended wrested away some of their constitutionally authorized local control.

In a unanimous decision, which included no explanation, the state Supreme Court stated Tuesday it would not take up the districts’ appeal of two lower courts’ rulings that HB 7069 was constitutional. It will not consider the matter for rehearing.

At issue was the Legislature’s creation of “schools of hope,” a new form of state-authorized charter school that school districts did not have control over their approval or denial. The legislation also directed school districts to send a portion of their local tax revenue to charter schools.

Lawyers for the districts argued that the Legislature overstepped its authority, because districts have the constitutional power to operate, control and supervise all free public schools within their boundaries. Charter schools are public schools in law.

They also contended that the Legislature may not direct the use of locally generated tax revenue.

The sides never disagreed on the facts under review. They did not see eye to eye on the interpretation of whether the law was permissible, though.

From the first ruling onward, the judges found in favor of the state.

Leon County judge John Cooper emphasized in his 2018 decision that statutes are presumed constitutional unless proven otherwise. This case did not rise to that level, Cooper found.

An appellate court used the same reasoning in its 2019 ruling. The judges in that instance said the districts’ disagreement with the statute was not enough to allow for a legal challenge.

“The school boards’ constitutional challenge to HB 7069’s provisions represents their disagreement with new statutory duties enacted by the Legislature," that court wrote. "As the foregoing authority makes clear, however, the school boards must presume that the provisions at issue are constitutional.”

Lawyers for the state and its supporters argued in November that the Supreme Court should not hear the case. They contended, in part, that the state has a clear right to regulate schools through the law.

The districts asked for oral arguments. Instead, they got this ruling.

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