Florida’s First District Appellate Court has just ruled that only the state’s public school districts have the right to approve and oversee charter schools, striking down a 2006 law that had created an alternative state-level charter authorization body. Districts typically – and correctly – see charters as competitors for scarce public funding, and this ruling will allow them to once again protect their monopoly position by stifling the competition (the very problem the 2006 law was meant to address).
School choice advocates often blame biased or misguided courts for such unfortunate decisions. This time, the blame lies elsewhere: in Florida’s constitution. Unlike most state constitutions, which leave legislators considerable freedom in the area of education policy, Florida’s spells out how its public school system must be organized, run, and funded. Among its many stipulations is that each school board ”shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” Florida districts clearly have an absolute monopoly on how public school dollars are spent.
Monopolies aren’t exactly famous for innovation or responsiveness to their customers. So Floridians who want greater freedom and diversity in education will have to demand a constitutional amendment to that effect. Until they do, their elected representatives will remain helpless to provide them with meaningful alternatives to their assigned district schools.