The School Board of Palm Beach County illegally denied South Palm Beach Charter School’s application to start a new charter school, claiming that the school lacks “innovation” and fails to fulfill the state charter statute’s requirement that charter schools “[e]ncourage the use of innovative learning methods.” The charter school applicant appealed to the State Board of Education, which held that the application should have been approved and the Florida Court of Appeal, where PLF participated as amicus, affirmed that decision. The School Board petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to review the case.
Charter schools are privately run public schools that operate under a performance contract (charter) with a public sponsor (usually a school district). Charter schools operate free from many state laws and regulations so that they have more freedom and flexibility to tailor their programs to their students and to focus on providing students with the best education possible. Charter schools compete with neighborhood schools for students by providing families with the ability to choose the best option for their particular needs. The School Board of South Palm Beach didn’t like the competition and unfairly denied the charter application of South Palm Beach Charter School.
When the state Board of Education held the charter school should have been authorized, the School Board appealed, claiming that charter schools must provide students with a more “innovative” education than traditional district schools and that to be “innovative,” a school must employ an instructional model that is different from existing district schools. As amicus, PLF explained that the school board’s arguments violate the letter and the intent of the charter school statute, which requires schools to “[e]ncourage the use of innovative learning methods.” A school can “encourage” innovation in different ways, without necessarily being new or unique. For example, a school can give teachers freedom to experiment with innovative approaches in their classrooms, or it can provide professional development training in such methods. Indeed, the legislature rejected the School Board’s argument when it eliminated a requirement that charter schools employ “different learning methods.” Moreover, Florida law encourages the creation of new charter schools that use identical methods as existing successful schools. The Florida Court of Appeal validated these arguments and ordered the School Board to reconsider. Instead, the School Board asked the Florida Supreme Court to review the case; their petition is pending.