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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Sep. 13, 2017 1 week ago

Orange County district joins suit against state over HB7069

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OCPS committed $25,000 to join a lawsuit regarding a controversial law formerly known as House Bill 7069. 
by: Gabby Baquero Staff Writer

ORANGE COUNTY –– Orange County Public Schools has followed 10 other Florida school districts that plan to sue the state regarding a new education law signed by Gov. Rick Scott that took effect July 1. 

Several school districts opposed many of the law’s provisions, formerly known as House Bill 7069, even before Tallahassee lawmakers passed it with a vote count of 73-36 in the House and 20-18 in the Senate — only one vote shy of killing it. 

Following their long-held discontent, school boards across Florida have banded together to legally challenge the Florida Legislature over the controversial education-conforming law, including Orange, Miami-Dade, Broward, Polk, Palm Beach, Volusia, Bay, St. Lucie, Hamilton and Lee counties. 

During an Aug. 15 meeting, Orange County School Board members voted to commit $25,000 in non-taxpayer funds to the law- suit, which targets five issues in the law as unconstitutional. 

The five issues pertain to schools of hope; charter school contracts; the designation of eligible charter school systems as a Local Education Authority; the sharing of discretionary capital millage with charters; and single subject rule. 

Diego “Woody” Rodriguez, who serves as the general counsel for OCPS and worked for the state Legislature as an analyst for three years, highlighted the grievances expressed by OCPS and like-minded school districts. OCPS board members allege the law erodes local control of the public school system and gives an advantage to charter schools via less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that boosts charters’ ability to expand, he said. 

“We’re not in this for the sake of being right,” Rodriguez said. “We have genuine concerns about the constitutionality of some of the provisions. And because of those concerns, we want them to fix it and if we’re satisfied in how they fix it, we’ll withdraw from the lawsuit. ... We don’t want to be in the lawsuit any more than the other districts do, but we can’t sit around and watch this be law.” 

OCPS has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and the Senate President Joe Negron informing them that if the Legislature addresses their concerns in a special session, OCPS will drop the lawsuit, Woody said. However, he anticipates the districts will head to court within the next 60 days. 

“I used to work in the Legislature as an analyst, and bills that were comprised at the last minute always had flaws and issues, and nine times out of 10, a large piece of legislation adopted at the last minute usually came back the following year with substantial revisions and rewrites,” Rodriguez said. “And I suspect that the law- makers are not going to be receptive to change.” 

If the circuit judge rules against the school districts, Rodriguez believes the districts will file an appeal until it reaches the Florida Supreme Court — a process which could take months to years. But if a judge declares any of the provisions in the law unconstitutional, then the law will become null and void. However, there’s also the option of injunctive relief. 

“We could also find ourselves in a situation involving injunctive relief, in which the courts say the law will not be enforced until it’s interpreted by the courts,” he said. “But I don’t know if we’ll be seeking injunctive relief or if it would be granted — it’s a big if. But, ultimately, it will all likely be played out in the courts, and if we’re wrong, then we’re wrong. We’ll just live with the law how it is. But if we’re right, then the Legislature will have to go back to the drawing board.” 

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Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]

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