Editorial: School Board should join legal fight against education law

    9:52 a.m. Saturday, July 15, 2017 Opinion
Carrie Bradburn/CAPEHART
Palm Beach County Schools Chief Robert Avossa says the district has “an obligation” to join the growing legal fight against controversial pro-charter school legislation signed into law last month. (Photo by CAPEHART)

As decisions go, this is an easy one.

On Wednesday, Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa plans to ask the School Board whether the district should join Broward County in suing the state over the new, controversial education law.

The board should indeed weigh it. Then say “yes.”

RELATED: Gov. Scott just signed HB 7069. Here’s what it does.

HB 7069 is a bit of a stinker. Parents. Teachers. School administrators. All lobbied heavily, to no avail, to keep this 274-page monstrosity from becoming law.

The manner in which the Republican leadership hastily rammed the measure through also stank up the place. Behind-the-scenes dealing. Little input from the people who will have to stretch dollars to implement programs. And a $419 million money grab to fund a for-profit charter school scheme.

RELATED: Avossa calls for suing the state over charter-friendly law HB 7069

Avossa was right when he told the Post’s Andrew Marra: “I think we have an obligation to our community to look after their assets. This transfer of public funds to private entities is very worrisome. I don’t want folks to look back and say ‘Why didn’t they fight tooth and nail?’ ”

Kudos then to the Broward County School Board for being the first to get this legal action started. It has outlined five grounds to challenge the law. Among them, aspects friendly to charter schools such as making it easier for a charter — or “School of Hope” — to open near an academically struggling traditional public school.

Perhaps the most salient argument, however, will be that the omnibus legislation violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement that each bill deal with a single subject. To help guarantee passage, the law — championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran — mashed together bills that dealt with, among other things, eliminating a state math exam, requiring most public elementary schools to offer daily recess, and providing more money for teacher bonuses and a school-voucher program for students with disabilities.

If that doesn’t raise questions about the single-subject rules, how about this: The constitution also requires that a bill’s “one subject” be “briefly expressed in the title.” The title for HB 7069 is more than 4,000 words.

Corcoran’s office says the law — which essentially rewrites the state’s public school system — falls under the “single subject” of “K-12 education policy.”

The Speaker called the Broward lawsuit “another example of the educational bureaucracy putting the adults who administer the schools ahead of the children who attend the schools.”

“Not only is it clueless,” he added, “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.”

No, Mr. Speaker. What’s “clueless” and “arguably heartless” is holding things such as teacher pay, help for disabled students and recess for elementary school kids hostage in order to siphon more money from struggling traditional public schools to funnel to less accountable, for-profit charter school operators.

There are many well-run charters in Palm Beach County; and our district is better for it. But there is no evidence that as a group they perform any better for our tax dollars. In fact, hundreds of charter schools have failed in the state of Florida, and dozens more are academically struggling.

Understandable then, why Avossa is so incensed by the new law’s provision giving the charter schools some of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through a local property tax.

In Palm Beach County, that provision will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year, or about 2 percent of its roughly $400 million capital budget. That figure could rise as the number of charter schools grows.

But we’re not alone in feeling this pain. Several other county school boards — including Miami-Dade and Orange counties — are also considering joining Broward. And Avossa says school district attorneys have been conferring with Broward’s lawyers as well as attorneys for other school boards.

Fine. Confer, then get on board lest this train stall on the track.