Florida Supreme Court Ruling Anti-Public Education And Pro-Charter Schools

Advocates of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have never stopped working to funnel as much public money as possible from public schools into their own private pockets, even if this means undermining the education and future of students attending those public schools. This massive transfer of public funds from public schools to charter schools also undermines teachers’ working conditions and has a negative impact on society, the economy, and the national interest.

Much of this unprincipled transfer of large sums of public wealth to the private sector has been facilitated and enforced by the courts.

And the courts, for their part, have grown increasingly neoliberal in their outlook and rulings over the past few decades, meaning that facts, justice, and core principles and standards really do not matter much anymore; only power, wealth, and privilege count. In education, healthcare, the environment, and other spheres, courts are increasingly handing down antisocial rulings—decisions that favor rich private interests.

In Florida, numerous public school districts have been fighting for years to stop privatizers and neoliberals from seizing public money that belongs to public school districts. Endless court battles have taken place, but well-funded charter school advocates have remained steadfast in their attempts to seize as much money as they can from public schools.

On April 7, 2020 the Florida Supreme Court, unanimously and with no explanation, rejected public school districts’ challenge to a 2017 charter school law (House Bill 7069) that violates the constitution and transfers public money from public schools to privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. The court refused to take up the public school districts’ appeal of two lower courts’ rulings that the 2017 law was constitutional.

Like many other courts, the Florida Supreme Court essentially put narrow private interests before the public interest by eliminating “local control over local schools by local representatives answerable to local voters.”

This means many under-funded public school districts will lose even more money that belongs to them. They will have even less control of what rightfully belongs to them. More public money will go to more of Florida’s notoriously corrupt, low-performing, and segregated charter schools that open and close frequently, leaving many families abandoned and angry. Florida’s track record with charter schools is awful. The state has the nation’s second-highest charter school closure rate. ((Jennifer Titus & Lauren Powell. “Chartered: Florida is No. 2 in the country for charter school closures“, 10NEWS, February 2020.))

Ignoring basic principles governing the public sphere and the public interest, the court affirmed that public schools no longer have a constitutional right to operate and fund their own schools and that they can be poached by privately-operated charter schools that over-pay administrators, regularly exclude many students, and have high teacher and student turnover rates, which is bad for teaching, learning, and community.

Public funds for privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools should be unconstitutional and prohibited. Charter schools are not public schools in any sense of the word, which means that they have no valid claim to public funds and public assets. Such claims are illegitimate.

Public funds and public assets belong only to public schools, not someone else. They cannot be arbitrarily and unilaterally transferred to private interests just because the rich and their political representatives have self-servingly decided that it is OK to do so.

An authority that self-servingly blurs the profound distinction between public and private is not an authority worthy of its name. Such an authority does not respect concrete conditions, requirements, and demands. It is unwilling and unable to uphold basic rights, including the right to education. Change that favors the people means depriving such an authority of its ability to deprive the public of its rights.

With the multifaceted toll that the “COVID Pandemic” is taking on public schools that have not even recovered from the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, it is more critical than ever to make sure that private businesses like charter schools do not receive any pubic funds or assets. Privatization increases corruption, lowers quality, and always benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.