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The School Board of Collier County v. Florida Department of Education

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

August 29, 2019

THE SCHOOL BOARD OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION; RICHARD CORCORAN, in his official capacity as Florida Commissioner of Education; ANDY TUCK, in his official capacity as Chair of the State Board of Education, THE PASSPORT SCHOOL, INC.; HOPE CHARTER SCHOOL, INC.; LEGACY HIGH SCHOOL, INC.; MARCO ISLAND ACADEMY, A Public Charter High School, Inc.; JENNY CARTWRIGHT; BETH SCHMUDE; LISA BURDUE TACKETT; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF CLAY COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF HAMILTON COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FLORIDA; THE SCHOOL BOARD OF VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA; and THE SCHOOL BOARD OF WAKULLA COUNTY, FLORIDA, Appellees/Cross-Appellants. THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF HAMILTON COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FLORIDA, and THE SCHOOL BOARD OF VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION; RICHARD CORCORAN, in his official capacity as Florida Commissioner of Education; ANDY TUCK, in his official capacity as Chair of the State Board of Education, THE PASSPORT SCHOOL, INC., HOPE CHARTER SCHOOL, INC., LEGACY HIGH SCHOOL, INC., MARCO ISLAND ACADEMY, A Public Charter High School, Inc., JENNY CARTWRIGHT, BETH SCHMUDE, LISA BURDUE TACKETT, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF CLAY COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA, THE SCHOOL BOARD OF DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA and THE SCHOOL BOARD OF WAKULLA COUNTY, FLORIDA, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. John C. Cooper, Judge.

          Christopher D. Donovan and James D. Fox of Roetzel & Andress, LPA, Naples, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee The School Board of Collier County.

          Jon L. Mills and Stephen Zack of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Miami; Stuart H. Singer and Sabria A. McElroy of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Fort Lauderdale, for Amicus Curiae The School Board of Palm Beach County, in support of Appellants/Cross-Appellees The School Boards of Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, and Volusia Counties.

          Franklin R. Harrison and Heather K. Hudson of Hand Arendall Harrison Sale LLC, Panama City; Steven L. Brannock, Ceci C. Berman, and Joseph T. Eagleton of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa; Philip J. Padovano of Brannock & Humphries, Tallahassee, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants The School Boards of Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, and Volusia Counties.

          Shawn A. Arnold, Melissa Gross-Arnold, and Braxton A. Padgett of The Arnold Law Firm, LLC, Jacksonville, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants Hope Charter School, Inc., Legacy High School, Inc., Marco Island Academy, A Public Charter High School, Inc., The Passport School, Inc., Jenny Cartwright, Beth Schmude, and Lisa Burdue Tackett.

          Amit Agarwal, Solicitor General, and Edward M. Wenger, Chief Deputy Solicitor General, Office of the Attorney General, Tallahassee; Rocco E. Testani of Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP, Atlanta, pro hac vice; and Matthew H. Mears, Department of Education, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants The Florida Department of Education, State Board of Education, Richard Corcoran, and Andy Tuck.

          Lewis, J.

         Appellants/Cross-Appellees, several Florida school boards, appeal a final judgment entered in favor of Appellees, the Florida Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Florida Commissioner of Education, and the Chair of the State Board of Education, seeking review of the trial court's rejection of their facial constitutional challenge to several provisions contained in Chapter 17-116, Laws of Florida, also known as House Bill 7069 ("HB 7069"), pertaining to charter schools, including the new "schools of hope." The school boards contend, as they did below, that the challenged provisions violate their right to "operate, control and supervise all free public schools" in Florida pursuant to Article IX, section 4(b) of the Florida Constitution, that certain provisions violate the uniformity requirement contained in Article IX, section (1)(a), and that HB 7069's capital millage provisions violate Article VII, section 1 by permitting the State to levy ad valorem taxes. On cross-appeal, Cross-Appellants/Appellees challenge the trial court's rejection of their defenses of lack of standing, estoppel, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the school boards have standing to challenge only those provisions of HB 7069 that address capital millage and federal Title I funds. However, because we find the school boards' challenge to those provisions unavailing on the merits, we affirm the Final Judgment.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In October 2017, the school boards filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against Appellees, alleging that HB 7069 unconstitutionally: (1) mandates that they share a portion of their discretionary capital outlay millage revenues with charter schools; (2) allows for the creation of charter schools called "schools of hope" that would be allowed to operate outside of any meaningful control or supervision by the school boards and create dual or even multiple systems of public education; (3) allows schools of hope and authorized charter school systems to serve as local education agencies; (4) strips the school boards of their ability to supervise and control charter schools by requiring them to enter into a standard charter contract with charter school operators; (5) restricts the authority of the school boards to effectively use federal Title I funds to operate, supervise, and control public schools in their district; and (6) divests the school boards of their authority and responsibility to decide how best to improve a public school that the State has identified as low-performing.

         With respect to capital millage, the school boards claimed that before HB 7069 was passed, they had full discretion as to whether to use any portion of their capital millage for charter schools. They also challenged the fact that HB 7069 prescribed a specific formula for the Florida Department of Education to use and directed that each district distribute funds to charter schools according to the formula. They alleged that the distribution of funds would severely impact their ability to build new and necessary schools and to adequately maintain the facilities they currently operated. As to federal Title I funding, the school boards alleged that HB 7069 restricted their authority to use the funds for purposes they deemed to be the most educationally beneficial and most likely to effectively address the educational needs of low-income students.

         The undisputed facts common to all of the school boards' claims, as set forth by the trial court, are as follows:

The parties agree that "constitutional authority over public education in Florida is shared among the State and local district school boards." . . . Article IX, section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution provides that the State shall make "adequate provision . . . by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education." Article IX, section 2 of the Florida Constitution gives the State Board of Education "such supervision of the system of free public education as is provided by law." And article IX, section 4(b) provides that the local "school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district."
This shared authority is reflected in Florida's longstanding system of free public schools and education finance. "Public education is a cooperative function of the state and local educational authorities," and "[t]he state retains responsibility for establishing a system of public education through laws, standards, and rules." § 1000.03(3), Fla. Stat. In addition, "[t]he district school system shall be considered as a part of the state system of public education. All actions of district school officials shall be consistent and in harmony with state laws and with rules and minimum standards of the state board." . . . Florida's charter schools are likewise "part of the state's program of public education," and "[a]ll charter schools in Florida are public schools." § 1002.33(1), Fla. Stat.
The Local Boards do not challenge the overall structure of Florida's system of public schools or its primary funding mechanism, the Florida Education Finance Program ("FEFP"), and Florida courts have repeatedly acknowledged the constitutionality of Florida's basic funding formula for public education. . . .
Nor do the Local Boards challenge the underlying constitutionality of public charter schools or the State's authority to require local boards to approve an application to open a charter school - both of which also have been upheld by Florida courts. . . .
Under these presumptively constitutional laws, local school boards are responsible for considering and approving applications to open a charter school (including "[t]he facilities to be used and their location") and for monitoring and reviewing any charter schools that they approve or "sponsor." . . . The Local Boards thus "monitor the revenues and expenditures of [each] charter school" and may terminate or nonrenew a charter for a variety of reasons, including "failure to meet the requirements for student performance stated in the charter" and "[f]ailure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management." . . . Since the creation of public charter schools in 1996, Florida's charter-school laws have also required local school boards to "make timely and efficient payment and reimbursement to charter schools" based on a statutory funding formula that includes "gross state and local funds, discretionary lottery funds, and funds from the school district's current operating discretionary millage levy." . . . For example, during the 2016-2017 school year, 12 of the Local Boards (excluding the school boards for Hamilton and Collier counties) distributed nearly $780 million in FEFP funding to charter schools - including over $330 million in locally generated ad valorem tax revenues. . . .

         The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Appellees challenged the school boards' standing to raise all but their capital millage claim. Following the summary judgment hearing, the trial court entered its Final Order and Judgment. Therein, the trial court, set forth in part:

A. The State Defendants' Procedural Defenses Do Not Warrant a Summary Judgment in Their Favor.
Before reaching the parties' arguments on the merits, the Court rejects the State Defendants' arguments that some or all of the Local Boards' claims are barred by a lack of standing, the doctrine of ...

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