Attend Constitutional Revision Commission in Gainesville April 26

This is a time to ACT!  The Constitutional Revision Commission hearing is in Gainesville at the Phillips Performing Arts Center on April 26.  Doors open at 4 pm, so get there early.

This Commission is formed every twenty years to hear what the public wants to change in our Florida Constitution.  The members are picked by the Governor, the Legislature and the Judiciary.  We expect that there is a strong partisan group on the Commission who will push for privatizing our schools via vouchers.  There is a plan to abolish the separation of church and state clause that prohibits public money going to private schools.

This is a time for you to be vocal.  We will get a second chance at the ballot box in November, 2018 when the proposed amendments will be on the ballot.  In case any members are hard of hearing, we need to tell them what we think as often as possible.

If you can attend the hearing, bring a three minute speech.  You need a speakers form that you submit at the door.  You can down load it here:

You can fill out a speaker form in advance and turn it in when you arrive.

 

 

 

 

Religious Freedom Bill: Can it pass the Lemon Test?

There are two bills in the Florida legislature ‘that purport to support’  freedom of religious expression in schools.  Federal and state constitutions already support religious expression.  Why does Florida need a law?

SB 436 requires districts to comply with federal requirements in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Is there a need for a law to guarantee rights that are already protected in the constitution?  This new law prohibits,

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Religion in schools, how much is too much?

by Pat Drago

For many of us, our faith permeates our lives. Religion, however, not only comes in many forms, it is based on strong emotions, and controversy is as old as mankind.  In modern times, waves of immigration brought people together whose religious faiths differed.  During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the issue came to a head over how to teach religion in schools.  President Grant and Senator Blaine proposed a solution, keep schools and religion separate.   A U.S. constitutional amendment failed, but 38 states passed their own version of the Blaine amendment to separate church and state. Florida was one of those states.

Public opinion wafts and wanes over how best to keep a moral center for our children.  The issue has once again reached the Florida legislature when HB 303 Daniels and SB 436 Baxley were filed to allow religious expression in schools.  The bills are framed to prevent districts from penalizing parents, teachers or students who express their religious beliefs in course work, artwork, or other assignments.  The bill goes on to authorize students to pray, organize prayer groups and religious events, and states that districts may not prohibit teachers from participating in student initiated religious activities.

Pat Drago, who was a former senior executive in Volusia County schools, offers some background on the role of religion in schools.

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Plan to Revise the Constitution: Take the Public Out of Public Education

Can you imagine that the Florida House and Senate would support the repeal of the Fair Districting amendments, making the redistricting process secret, as well as rescinding constitutional bans on state support for private, religious schools?   The Miami Herald reports that these are the major goals of the legislative leaders. Florida’s constitution would have to be changed, and the process is now in place.  We need to know about this; it is real.

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington’s Charter Shell Game and Another Lawsuit

justiceThe League is in a new lawsuit in the state of Washington.  Charters were approved by the voters in 2012, but the League of Women Voters called the move unconstitutional.  The Charter School Case filed by the League et al in 2013 was appealed all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.  In 2015, the Court ruled that charter schools violated the Washington constitution.  Charters were not public schools.  In order for the legislature to fund charters, they must be governed by elected school boards, and of course, they were not.

The  legislature was not deterred.

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Opt Out Parents Lawsuit Going Federal?

justiceThere is a new and very interesting twist to the Florida opt out lawsuit.  Parents whose children were retained in third grade solely because they did not take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) brought a lawsuit.  Some districts retained these children who would otherwise be promoted to fourth grade and others did not.  It sounds like a basic fairness issue, but it is more complicated.  Who is responsible for this policy, the State or the federal government?  If only 16 states require third grade retention, why would the federal law be involved?

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Voucher Lawsuit Appeal: When is a tax a tax?

justiceOral arguments were heard in the Joanne McCall vs. Governor Scott lawsuit yesterday.  The Florida Education Association, Florida League of Women Voters and the NAACP support the suit.  It is not clear that the judges in the First District Court of Appeals agree.  They must now decide whether the trial will go forward. A video of the hearing will be available on the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal soon.

The issue is whether tax credit vouchers to send students to private, mostly religious schools is constitutional.

 

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Lawsuit Testimony Can Break Your Heart

justiceFlorida’s educational system is on trial in Tallahassee.  The charge?  One million Florida students cannot read at grade level.  Testimony about the plight of these children can break your heart.  Thousands are homeless.  Most are from poor families.  In some rural counties children are too hungry to learn, and schools provide three meals a day.  These children, the plaintiffs argue need much more than school districts can provide with current funding.  

The Florida League of Women Voters recognizes that the solutions to these problems are complex, but applauds the attention the suit brings to the weaknesses in our educational system.  What are the arguments and what is the defense?  What do the witnesses say? 

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