The School Board of Manatee County is weighing its options after the School Board of Broward County decided it would sue the Florida Legislature over what it says is an unconstitutional education reform law.
Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069 on June 15. The new law has angered public school advocates, superintendents and boards across the state. School Board of Manatee County Chairman Charlie Kennedy applauded Broward’s lawsuit and said he hopes the Manatee board becomes a joint plaintiff.
“Personally, I can’t wait to join Broward County’s suit,” Kennedy wrote in a text message to the Herald. “But we’ll have to wait and see what the rest of the board thinks on July 25” — the next scheduled meeting.
Personally, I can’t wait to join Broward County’s suit. School Board of Manatee County Chairman Charlie Kennedy
Barbara J. Myrick, general counsel for Broward’s board, described several aspects of the law as “ripe for challenge” in an analysis she provided to the board.
Among those provisions:
- HB 7069, which makes changes to 69 statutes, violates the constitutional requirement for bills to encompass a single subject, Myrick wrote.
- She said language limiting a board’s ability to regulate charter schools would “relegate local school boards to essentially ministerial functions.”
- The “Schools of Hope” program, which allocates millions in state funding to charter schools opening near failing public schools, “establishes a duplicative private system,” Myrick wrote.
Board member Dave Miner praised Broward for taking action against what he describes as a law that violates the clear duties of school boards across the state. But he doesn’t know if it’s necessary for Manatee to join a lawsuit in order to support judicial review of the legislation.
“The more parties to the lawsuit, the more attention it receives in the public mind, but a judge is not going to be swayed by the number of parties,” Miner said. “But I don’t think there are many — if any — judges who think this legislation is in the public interest.”
There is no clear-cut path forward if the district decides it wants to join the lawsuit, board attorney Jim Dye said, largely due to the day-to-day complexity of having multiple elected boards as plaintiffs to a lawsuit.
“There is not an off-the-shelf model or template,” Dye said. “You can’t have a question come up, and then in order to get an answer to the question, you have to get a dozen school boards together and hold a vote.”
We’re talking about millions of dollars being litigated. - School Board of Manatee County general counsel Jim Dye
Dye said a suit with multiple districts would probably have one or two lead plaintiffs, and others would lend their name and financial support. He estimated the cost of litigation for such a suit would be in the “low six figures,” and it likely would be split up among the plaintiffs. The Broward board approved spending up to $25,000 on the lawsuit.
The Florida House has released estimates as to how much money school districts would be required to share with charter schools out of their capital outlay funding. Manatee will be required to share $2.68 million, which ranks 11th among the state’s 67 districts when it comes to the proportion of capital dollars to be shared with charter schools.
“We’re talking about millions of dollars being litigated,” Dye said.
In a May 23 letter, Manatee’s board unanimously urged Scott to veto the bill. Board vice chairman and former Scott appointee John Colon signed that letter, but last week he said the district should work within the new confines of 7069.
It’s not a perfect bill, but its something we can work with in Manatee County. School Board of Manatee County Vice-chairman John Colon
“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s something we can work with in Manatee County,” Colon said. “I think it was the best compromise the governor could get out of (House speaker) Mr. (Richard) Corcoran. And you know he (Corcoran) never met a charter school he didn’t like.”
The board is waiting on Scott to fill former board member Karen Carpenter’s seat. Board member Gina Messenger did not respond to a voice mail requesting comment. Superintendent Diana Greene declined to comment, deferring to board members.
Regardless of whether the board decides to join the lawsuit, Kennedy and Miner will be rooting for Broward County.
“The state Constitution sets forth duties for school boards, and it’s so highly presumptuous for legislators to think they know what’s best for every school district and every student,” Miner said. “It’s reckless legislation.”