Florida Supreme Court agrees to hear wide-ranging education lawsuit

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Education activists hoped to put two decades of Florida education policy, and above all, funding, on trial. They will get their wish before the state Supreme Court.

The high court agreed today, in a 4-1 decision, to hear appeals in the so-called “adequacy lawsuit.” Alan Lawson, a new appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, was the lone vote against hearing the case.

The suit, first filed by education activists in 2009, argues Florida’s public schools are under-funded and hamstrung by policies like standardized testing, in violation of the state constitution.

In 2014, the scope of the case widened considerably, and the plaintiffs took aim at several school choice programs. Both the trial court and the First District Court of Appeal, however, held that school choice programs — including charter schools and the McKay Scholarship program for children with special needs — don’t harm public education, and may help. And last year, the Supreme Court declined to re-examine an appeals court’s decision that the statewide teachers union lacked legal standing to challenge Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarships.)

Lawyers for the state had repeatedly argued the adequacy case deals with “political questions” that aren’t for courts to decide. They also highlighted positive student achievement trends, which received fresh credence in recent national test results.

Now, the case will unfold before the high court just as the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections kick into gear. It will happen on an ambitious timetable. The first round of legal briefs from the plaintiffs is now expected by May 21.