Constitution Revision Commission
The Florida Supreme Court may have struck down a proposed education amendment to the state’s constitution, but the issue the measure raised can’t be easily dismissed.
In a 4-3 decision, the court last week removed from the November ballot Amendment 8, which would have given the state the authority to establish and operate public schools, bypassing local school districts. The four justices affirmed a lower-court ruling that the amendment’s language was misleading because it “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect” of the measure.
Although Amendment 8, which was placed on the ballot by Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, bundled three different education-related proposals into one ballot item, opponents objected to the part that would permit the state “to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.” Critics argued that the vagueness of that statement was meant to obscure its real purpose: to transfer the power to create charter schools from local school districts, where they often encounter opposition, to the state, which has been more receptive of charters.
Amendment 8 off ballot: A judge’s decision that proposed constitutional Amendment 8 should be removed from the Nov. 6 ballot is upheld in a 4-3 vote by the Florida Supreme Court. A Leon County judge had ruled that the amendment is misleading and fails to inform voters of its “chief purpose and effect.” The amendment, put forward by the Constitution Revision Commission, would have created an entity other than local school boards that can approve charter and public schools, set term limits for school board members and required civics education in schools. The League of Women Voters challenged the constitutionality of the amendment, with president Patricia Brigham saying “the backers of this proposal on the CRC went to great lengths to hide the ball because they realized that Floridians would never knowingly forfeit their right to local control over their local public schools.” Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Washington Post. Watchdog.org.
Scott rejected again: Legislative leaders officially deny Gov. Rick Scott’s request to release $58 million from the armed school guardian fund to districts to help them pay for more security at schools. In a letter to the governor Friday, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said, “For the guardian program to truly be vetted and ultimately embraced, I believe the program should maintain its own funding rather than having its funds commingled with other funds available for school safety. I respectfully disagree with your statement that the $58 million in available funding will go to waste if the proposed budget amendment is not adopted.” Galvano did say he would be open to reviewing the program in the near future. Only $9 million of the $67 million set aside for guardians was claimed by districts, which preferred having school resource officers to arming school employees. Associated Press.
Amendment 8 appeal: The state’s Office of the Attorney General announces it plans to appeal a Leon County judge’s decision to remove proposed constitutional Amendment 8 from the November ballot. Judge John Cooper ruled that the amendment, which would allow the Legislature to create an organization to authorize charter schools, set term limits for school board members and require civics education in schools, is “misleading” because it doesn’t inform voters of its true purpose. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU. Four former Florida legislators start a group, Save My Constitution, that’s calling on voters to reject all eight of the constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission. They say the proposals are “confusing” and “misleading.” Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida.
Redirecting funds: Gov. Rick Scott wants legislators to allow school districts to use money that was set aside to arm school employees for other school security measures. Lawmakers allocated $67 million to arm school employees but only 24 of the 67 districts were interested, so only about $9.4 million has been used. Scott wants the remaining funds to be distributed among districts, prorated by enrollment, for any school security expenses. News Service of Florida. WLRN. Florida Politics.
Members of ’98 Constitution Revision Commission file briefs supporting state’s position in adequacy lawsuit
A group of appointed members from a 1998 Constitution Revision Commission filed a legal brief Tuesday arguing the state has fully complied with a constitutional mandate, proposed by the commission and approved by voters that year, requiring Florida public schools to be “high quality” and adequately funded.
The CRC contingent was among five different groups that filed amicus briefs supporting the state’s position in the highly charged adequacy lawsuit, and its legal argument was notably at odds with that of a separate group of appointment members who weighed in earlier in July.
The adequacy suit, first in 2009 by a Gainesville-based organization known as Citizens for Strong Schools, argues Florida’s public schools are under-funded and hamstrung by policies like standardized testing. At the heart of the legal battle is the so-called “adequacy” provision enacted in 1998.
The five groups filing friend of the court briefs on Tuesday all argued in support of the State Board of Education’s position in the “adequacy lawsuit.” They asked the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the judgment of the First District Court of Appeal, which dismissed the constitutional claims and argued that the court was being asked instead to determine “political questions” that were beyond its legal authority.
The other briefs were filed by EdChoice, the Urban League of Greater Miami, the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Miami, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education a think tank on education reform founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Dueling groups in suit: Two groups of Florida’s 1997-1998 Constitution Revision Commission have gotten approval to file supporting briefs for opposite positions on the question of what the commission meant when it put a constitutional amendment on the 1998 ballot requiring the state to provide a high-quality system of public schools. Voters approved that amendment. One group, calling themselves “framers” of the amendment, asked the court to allow it to file a brief in support of those bringing the suit that claims the state is failing in its constitutional duty. Another group got approval last week to file a brief that supports the state’s position, the two previous court rulings against the plaintiffs, Citizens for Strong Schools, and argues that the Supreme Court should not consider the opinions of individual members of the 37-member CRC. News Service of Florida.
Teacher recruiting: The Orange County School District is confronting teacher shortages with an innovative program that puts University of Central Florida graduates with science degrees but no education coursework or training in a veteran teacher’s classroom for a semester to learn how to manage a classroom and make lesson plans. School officials hope the paid apprentice prepares those graduates for success. Adam LaMee, the teacher-in-residence at UCF’s Physics Teacher Preparation Program, calls the program “fantastic” and hopes other districts will copy it. Orlando Sentinel. The Hillsborough County School District now has just a couple-dozen teaching jobs open at its 50 lowest-performing schools, down from 200 a week ago. Tampa Bay Times.
The League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center are challenging the wording of a Florida ballot measure that could, among other things, overhaul charter school authorizing in the state.
The proposed Amendment 8 would do three things if voters approve it this fall. It would impose term limits on elected school board members, elevate the importance of civic literacy and allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools.
That third part has drawn the most attention from critics. And it’s the focus of the lawsuit, filed this morning in Leon County court.
Florida is somewhat unique compared to other states. Its constitution creates 67 countywide school boards. Courts have held that, with certain, narrow exceptions, those countywide school boards have the exclusive power over public schools. That means statewide charter school authorizing boards, like the one that exists in Massachusetts, are unconstitutional.
The proposed amendment, drafted by the Constitution Revision Commission, would change that by adding the underlined words to the state constitution.
(b) The school board shall operate, control, and supervise all free public schools established by the district school board within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein. Two or more school districts may operate and finance joint educational programs.
A proposed ballot summary, intended to explain the change to voters when they go to the polls in November, describes the change this way:
Framers may weigh in: The so-called “framers” of the 1998 constitutional amendment that requires the state to provide high-quality public schools will be allowed to file a brief in a court challenge of a state education law, the Florida Supreme Court rules. The group Citizens for Strong Schools is suing the state, claiming it is not fulfilling its obligation to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools. Ten of the members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission had asked to be allowed to file a brief on their intent in the phrasing of the amendment, in support of the suit. The state objected, and will still be allowed to challenge the brief. News Service of Florida.
Union threatens lawsuit: The Florida Education Association says it will file suit today against the portion of H.B. 7055 that allows teachers unions to be decertified if they can’t maintain more than half the eligible membership. “This is about equity and fairness, and being targeted and singled out,” says FEA president Joanne McCall, who says the law applies only to teachers unions. Gradebook.
Broward bond projects: A watchdog group says it’s time for the Broward County School District to outline a plan for fixing decaying schools or admitting it can’t be done before the deadline it set. Florida TaxWatch, which was hired by the district to monitor the progress of the work scheduled under an $800 million bond referendum approved in 2014, found that only 10 percent of the identified projects have been completed and only 12 percent are under construction. “We are desperately behind and we need to know why,” says board member Heather Brinkworth. Sun-Sentinel. A timeline of the bond program. Sun-Sentinel.