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QUESTION PRESENTED: Is a charter school-in-a-municipality entitled to give an enrollment preference to children of the residents of that municipality who are seeking enrollment? A corollary question is whether a charter school-in-the-workplace may give a preference to children of employees of that business or corporation who are seeking enrollment?
CONCLUSION: Yes. Enrollment preference is permitted in both instances.
DISCUSSION: While your request for an opinion is restricted to charter schools-in-a-municipality, we have expanded our consideration to include charter schools-in-the-workplace since the issue of enrollment preferences pertains to both entities. Section 228.056(7)(a), Florida Statutes, requires charter schools to be open to any student covered in an interdistrict agreement or residing in the school district in which the charter school is located. Exceptions and preferences are provided for within subparagraph (a) itself, as well as in subparagraph (c). Subparagraph (c)(3) permits a charter school to "limit the enrollment process only to target . . . [s]tudents enrolling in a Charter School-in-the-Workplace or Charter School-in-a-Municipality . . . ." Incidentally, subparagraph (c)(3) contains an incorrect cite to subsection (22) for reference to the establishment of a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality. The correct reference is subparagraph (23). We do not construe the mandate that a charter school be open to any student covered in an interdistrict agreement or residing in the district in which the charter school is located to require that all such students have the same chance of being enrolled.
Section 228.056(7)(b), Florida Statutes, requires charter schools to enroll eligible students who submit a timely application, unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level or building, in which case all applicants are to be given an equal chance of being admitted through a random selection process. In this instance the random selection process applies only where applications by eligible students exceed capacity. Not so in the case a charter school-in-a-municipality or charter school-in-the-workplace. Subsection 23(b), in the case of charter schools-in-the-workplace, and (c) in the case of charter schools-in-a-municipality, require that initial enrollment be based upon a random lottery involving "children of employees of that business or corporation" and "children of the residence of that municipality," respectively. These provisions must be given their plain meaning, which is that a charter school-in-the-workplace and a charter school-in-a-municipality may first grant admission to their limited applicant populations.
We adopt your citation to T.R. v. State, 677 So.2d 270, 271 (Fla. 1996), for the proposition that all parts of the statute must be read together in order to achieve a consistent whole. However, we would draw a different conclusion from that rule of statutory construction. Our construction harmonizes the provisions of 228.056(7)(a) and (b) and Section 228.056(7)(c) and 23(b) and (c). To construe Section 228.056(7)(a) and (b) to preclude enrollment preference by a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality would be to ignore subsection (7)(c)(3) and subsection 23(b) and (c). Moreover, subsection 23(a) expresses the Legislature's intent
It is consistent with this expression of Legislative intent to construe the statute to permit enrollment preferences by random selection among the targeted populations. The legislature intends to encourage developers and municipalities to provide school infrastructure and "advance the cause of neighborhood schools." It is reasonable to assume that a developer or municipality would be discouraged from the development of a charter school if the law required that all students throughout the entire district be afforded an equal opportunity for enrollment. A business or corporation may well be encouraged to fund a charter school-in-the-workplace for the benefit of its employees, but could hardly be expected to undertake the expense of a charter school benefiting the district at large. The same holds true for a municipality.
While the use of a second random lottery to fill remaining classroom seats is not expressly authorized by Section 228.056, Florida Statutes, neither is it prohibited. Indeed, use of the second random lottery appears to us to be consistent with the general requirement for open enrollment found in Section 228.056(7)(a), as modified by the specific provisions of subsection (7)(c) and subsection (23)(b) and (c).
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that a charter school-in-the-workplace may restrict the initial random lottery to children of employees of the business or corporation who are seeking enrollment and that a charter school-in-a-municipality may restrict the initial lottery to children of the residents of the municipality who are seeking enrollment. Use of a second random lottery to fill remaining classroom seats is entirely consistent with the law. In fact, any process for filling remaining classroom seats which did not rely on random selection would be legally suspect.
Should you have any questions or comments concerning this opinion, please do not hesitate to contact me.