Jacksonville, FL - It's an idea the Duval County School Board first floated at a special meeting back in July, now, they're moving forward.
Board members have voted, 4-2, in favor of joining a proposed lawsuit with other school districts against the State of Florida, that challenges the constitutionality of controversial House Bill 7069.
The bill, which was signed by Governor Rick Scott earlier this year, in part, threatens to shut down low performing schools and turn them into charter schools.
Board chairman Paula Wright, who voted in favor, sent WOKV the following statement:
“This lawsuit is to determine the constitutionality of HB 7069. It will answer a fundamental question- has the legislators crossed the line of impeding on the constitutional authority given to school board members. This lawsuit is about certain provisions of HB 7069 that intrude on the School Board’s explicit constitutional duty to operate, supervise and control all free public schools in the district.”
Board member Becki Couch has also released a statement, explaining why she also voted in favor of joining the suit.
Couch says, “I voted for the legal challenge of HB7069 because I believe there are unconstitutional elements of the bill. This is not about opposing school choice, opposing teacher bonus pay, or protecting the status quo, as some will proclaim. I support utilizing the judicial branch of government as a means to challenge whether or not a law that takes away representation by an elected body and hands it over to an unelected and unaccountable body, is constitutional. As a fiscal conservative I have grave concerns over the way in which over $16 million of property tax revenue can be diverted to for profit entities with no requirement to demonstrate need and with no requirement that the buildings belong to the taxpayer (local school boards are required to demonstrate need). I have grave concern over the fact that HB7069 establishes charter schools as local education agencies (LEA) without oversight from the taxpayer through an elected board, and I have grave concern that HB7069 eliminates the representative democracy that keeps the local decision making closest to the people. Our founding fathers established the three branches of government to ensure there are checks and balances in government. In this case, I believe the only body that can demonstrate legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of HB7069 is a school board. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to ensure the law that was passed does not violate the state constitution we were sworn to uphold.”
Meanwhile, board member Scott Shine was one of two votes against joining the lawsuit.
He worries the lawsuit will impede the district's ability to work with the Florida legislature to solve some of the problems within the bill.
"I think, in general, litigation sends the wrong message to the legislature, that we're in an adversarial position when we should be in a cooperative position," says Shine.
Shine admits there are problems with HB 7069, but he says it can be refined.
"This was the first year that this bill hit the floor and was voted in. When that happens, virtually every time in the legislature, there are refinements, there are new laws passed to make a law better and that's part of the natural process. It's only been a few months that this bill has been enacted into law and we're already engaged in litigation with the state. I think that's premature," explains Shine.
Shine tells WOKV that in order to join the litigation, the district will be making a $25,000 financial commitment, which he says 'supposedly' does not come out of educational services.
Duval County Public Schools has posted the following statement on their website about Monday’s vote:
“The Duval County Public School Board voted Monday to join a proposed lawsuit that will challenge the constitutionality of a controversial education law the Florida Legislature passed this spring.
The other school boards that have authorized litigation include Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Miami-Date, Orange, Palm Beach, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia. Each school district will financially participate on a pro-rated basis per student enrollment.
Duval County Public School’s portion of the litigation expenses would be paid from non-public funds, not to exceed $25,000, without School Board approval. The Office of the General Counsel has estimated expenses to be $400,000, if the challenge goes to trial.”