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Kathy Castor tells Hillsborough School Board she believes HB 7069 runs contrary to federal law

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Some of the biggest school districts in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Volusia and Orange counties, have filed legal challenges to House Bill 7069, the controversial education legislation that critics say will undermine local control of schools and expand the charter school system.

Hillsborough County is not one of them, but it may be more inspired to after receiving a letter from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, whobelieves the law runs afoul of federal law, specifically Title I provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“I understand that other school districts and educators are considering legal challenges to the troubling provisions of HB 7069 and I hope my insight on certain federal Title I provisions is helpful as you consider the same,” Castor said in her letter penned Thursday to Cindy Stuart, the chair of the Hillsborough County School Board.

Castor says that under ESEA, Congress has established its clear intent that local school districts have the legal responsibility and are most knowledgeable in targeting Title I funds to develop and implement high quality, effective initiatives.

“The new Florida law unlawfully allows the state of Florida to change the way Title I funds are allocated, thereby diluting the ability of school districts to educate children in Title I schools in the most effective ways,” she writes.

The Tampa Democrat adds that during the recent reauthorization of ESEA, the Congress debated and ultimately rejected “portability” proposals that would have shifted more control over to the states. “The state of Florida the authority to act in contravention of the ESEA Title 1 provisions, especially when the congressional intent is so clear.”

In other words, Castor believes the bill is ripe for a legal challenge.

HB 7069 encompasses more than 60 measures, such as creating a separate “schools of hope” charter school system, taking control from local school boards. It’s also has riled public school boards because of a requirement that districts distribute a portion of their capital funding tax revenue to charter schools.

HB 7069 has been controversial since it was passed by the Legislature in late spring. Most of the public education establishment across Florida begged Governor Rick Scott to veto it, but he signed the bill in June.

Supporters of the bill, led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, have argued ir will improve public education by giving students now attending struggling traditional public schools another option outside their neighborhood schools. He called the bill “the most comprehensive and transformative set of education reforms in our state’s history.”

Others strongly disagree. After the Polk County School board voted this week to join the lawsuit over the new law, School Board member Billy Townsend said, “They say we all want the same thing, (but) that is a lie. Tallahassee is a disease on education. This lawsuit is a way to try to cure that. Let’s get to work and change this model.”

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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