Democracy Dies in the Darkness (An update on House Bill 7123)

We have reached day 53 of the 60-day legislative session. This is the time of year where budget deals are often cut and the Legislature likes to operate out of the sunshine. The House of Representatives did so in a literal sense last night when the they took up HB 7123 at 10:30pm.

The bill—which passed 69-44 would force tax levies collected from school district referenda to be shared with charter schools. Representative Shevrin Jones did a great job of explaining why 20 counties around the state felt it was necessary to have a referendum:

Jones was just one of many Democrats who fought forcibly to remove the charter school referendum language from the tax bill. Representative Carlos G. Smith clearly articulates that 7123 is “not what the voters asked for.”

However, Representative Bryan Avila (feel free to e-mail him and let him know what you think—just remember to keep your remarks professional) claimed sharing the referendum money with charter schools was necessary because voters simply didn’t know that charter schools would be excluded from the referendum. Avila also said he didn’t know that charter schools advocated against the Miami-Dade referendum.

But, just to be sure we let him know.

Representative Matt Willhite did a wonderful job of representing his Palm Beach Constituents. He submitted an amendment which would have made sure this law was prospective not retrospective. In other words, his amendment would make sure that while charter schools could get a share of school district tax levies going forward, they would not be able to collect money on the referenda that have recently passed.It should be no surprise that his amendment failed by a vote of 45-64.

Another good amendment submitted by Representative Javier Fernandez also failed. This amendment would have put some teeth into the language that requires charter schools to use the referenda money for the “voter-authorized purpose.” As a result, in the bill that passed there is no oversight mechanism to ensure charter schools use the money the way voters intended nor are there consequences laid out if the charter schools spend the money in unauthorized ways.Because this amendment failed on a voice vote, there is no record of who voted for and against it.

Last night was not a good night for democracy in Florida. But, the fight isn’t over yet. This language has not been approved by the Senate; as far as that goes, the language doesn’t yet exist in the Senate. But we expect that to change soon.

So, don’t waste any time. Contact your Senator right now and tell them that democracy still matters, that the will of the people should still be respected, and that they should not approve any tax package that forces school districts to share referendum money with charter schools.