The Broward County School Board voted Wednesday to move ahead with legal action against a sweeping new education law, an initial step toward a court clash over one of the legislative session's most controversial bills.
During a special meeting called to discuss the potential lawsuit, board members voted unanimously to allow the district to hire an outside lawyer to help handle the case. Broward County expects to be followed by other districts —- including Miami-Dade County —- in mounting a challenge to the law.
The legislation (HB 7069), signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, would overhaul a vast swath of state education law. It deals with everything from mandatory recess for elementary school students and standardized testing to charter school funding and teacher bonuses.
In a memo given to the Broward County board ahead of the meeting, the board's general counsel outlined five grounds to challenge the 278-page, $419 million measure. The grounds include an argument that the massive legislation violates the Florida Constitution's requirement that each bill deal with a single subject.
But it also launches broadsides against some aspects of the legislation that are friendly to charter schools. The new law makes it easier for charter schools to open near academically struggling traditional public schools, something the Broward County board says infringes on its authority over schools.
The law, championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, also requires school districts to share with charter schools construction funds raised by local property taxes, something that could weaken the districts' credit outlook.
"This is strong-arm robbery," Broward County board member Rosalind Osgood said during Wednesday's meeting. "And the weapon is this policy, this legislation. And so we have to stand up and do something about it. We can't just allow our community, and I'll say it in this way, to be jacked like this."
Other members also indicated that longstanding frustration with the Legislature over issues ranging from unfunded mandates to inadequate spending on public schools helped prompt the decision.
"This is the opportunity for us to start chiseling away at state legislators who don't put the voter and the children in this state first. ... I feel it's really our time to step up to the bat and say, 'enough is enough,' " said Ann Murray, another board member.
The board's general counsel, Barbara Myrick, didn't give a specific timeframe for filing the lawsuit. But Myrick said districts hope to move quickly to block the law from fully taking effect and to meet a six-month deadline for filing a challenge under the single-subject clause.
Emerging in the final days of the legislative session, HB 7069 came in for withering criticism because of behind-the-scenes dealing and the bill's size. Parents and educators from across the spectrum called for the measure to be vetoed, but Scott signed it after lawmakers met in special session and approved his request for additional funding for public education, tourism marketing and economic development.
Supporters say the bill includes several popular provisions and gives additional education options to students in public schools that have repeatedly failed.
Corcoran issued a statement late Wednesday lambasting the board over the proposed lawsuit.
"This is another example of the educational bureaucracy putting the adults who administer the schools ahead of the children who attend the schools," he said. "Not only is it clueless, 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."