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Florida schools and state battle over HB 7069's constitutionality in appeal hearing

'The constitution puts it very plainly'
school desk
Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 11, 2019

It was round two in the battle over whether a controversial Florida education bill is unconstitutional.

The law in question, was adopted in 2017 and created a charter program known as “Schools of Hope” for low performing districts.

The law was upheld in a lower court— but Tuesday, a panel of appellate judges from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal heard from lawyers arguing whether the law gives the state too much power over school districts.

In their push to throw out HB 7069, lawyers representing 10 Florida districts argued the state’s ability to create charter schools and give them local dollars, without a district’s OK, was a violation of Florida’s constitution.

Attorney Steven Brannock, representing the districts, cited a section from the 60s.

“The constitution puts it very plainly,” Brannock said. “The school boards ‘shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the district.’”

Lawyers for the state dismissed control concerns, saying districts can still approve and terminate charter contracts.

Attorney Rocco Testani, representing the state, also aimed to make a bigger point, saying a constitutional revision from the 90s gave the state power to “make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

“What these districts are saying, what these boards are saying— we want to be left alone,” Testani said. “They don’t want to perform the duties that have been enacted in law. They’re not being prevented from doing anything.”

HB 7069 was narrowly approved by lawmakers and heavily criticized in 2017. Some doubted whether then-Governor Rick Scott would even sign the bill after reports suggested Floridians were calling for a veto by a margin of 3-to-1.

The three-judge appellate panel ended the hearing without comment— though they did question whether the districts had authority to challenge the law at all.

While attorneys for the state declined comment outside the courtroom, Brannock said he was uncertain what the outcome would be.

“It’s awfully hard to tell from the questions from the court,” Brannock said. “I think we gave the best answers that we had. Now, we’ll see what the court does with that.”

Attorneys believed it likely judges would want to write opinions about the case, meaning it could take months before a decision is announced.