Miami-Dade Plans To 'Exhaust' Options Before Suing Over Charter School Law

Oct 19, 2017

South Florida school districts are leading two major lawsuits against a controversial new charter school law. But Miami-Dade County is sitting it out — at least for now.

Palm Beach County filed a lawsuit against H.B. 7069 in late September. Earlier this week, Broward and a dozen other counties mounted their own challenge. But the state’s largest district has decided to sue only after exhausting all other options.

Board members are headed to Tallahassee on Monday to try to convince legislators to change the law themselves. Their trip comes after Superintendent Alberto Carvalho called for a special session to address districts’ concerns about the law. He suggested lawmakers could avoid litigation if they find a way to compromise with district leaders.

"The school district’s decision was not to join the lawsuit at this time," said Steve Gallon, who represents Miami Gardens and Opa-locka on the school board. "We made a very clear determination that ongoing dialogue, ongoing collaboration — until it was determined that it has been exhausted — is prudent."

He said the board is "working with our legislators and trying to reach a happy medium in anticipation of the upcoming session," which starts in January. Lawmakers have already begun holding committee meetings in Tallahassee ahead of the 60-day gathering.

A majority of the nine-member board will decide when other options have been “exhausted” and it’s time to sue, Gallon said.

District leaders have argued the law takes away power that’s guaranteed to elected school boards in the state constitution and gives it to the private companies that run charter schools instead. The massive new law provides charters more independence from public school districts, and also allows the privately run schools access to millions in local property tax dollars for construction and maintenance for the first time.

It also included an extra $2,000 per student for up to 25 traditional public schools that have been struggling. The state Board of Education awarded nearly $7 million to five Miami-Dade schools and about $7.6 million to three schools in Palm Beach County earlier this week.

The law was the top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and he’s unlikely to be open to major changes. However, the measure passed by only one vote in the more moderate Senate, and some in the upper chamber have said they hope to roll back some of the provisions.