The Washington State Superintendent of Schools argues that it may be necessary to close public schools to force the state to comply with the court ruling on funding education. Could this happen in Florida? It may be up to the voters even if the Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) wins the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit.
SLC argues that Florida needs a cost study to establish appropriate funding to meet children’s needs. Washington State had one. The legislature does not want to allocate the money. It is a struggle between what every one knows should be done and what is being done. It is about who gets the money.
In the State of Washington Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, McCleary v. State (2012), the court ordered the State to rectify the chronic underfunding of Washington’s public schools. Four years later, the state is in “contempt of Court” for not complying. The legislature is being fined $100,000 a day until the funding reforms are complete.
Some progress has been made: all day kindergarten, reduced class size, adequate transportation, improved instructional materials funding, and a cost of living teacher salary adjustment have been implemented.
In spite of progress, the legislature is stalled. The legislature is not providing enough money to fund the state salary schedule. Districts must raise local property taxes to cover costs even though the State is constitutionally mandated to fund basic education.
New briefs have been filed in court. Even the State Superintendent of Schools is now arguing that either the public schools be closed or the legislature rescinds large corporate tax breaks to cover costs.
If the Southern Legal Counsel were to ultimately win its Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit, Florida is likely to face funding issues similar to those in Washington. Even though the cost of Florida’s educational system is shared by the state and local property tax revenue, many local districts cannot raise adequate revenue from property taxes to cover costs. Either the Florida legislature will have to require wealthy districts like Miami-Dade to share more of its property taxes with rural taxes or the state legislature must raise new money through rescinding corporate income tax breaks and/or increasing state sales taxes.
Education is the state’s paramount according to the Florida constitution. Yet, meeting that priority faces stiff competition from those who advocate reducing the state budget and slashing corporate taxes. The legislature and the governor differ in reducing corporate taxes. Last year, this revenue was about two billion dollars a year. It would go a long way toward improving Florida’s public schools. Even if Southern Legal Counsel ultimately wins in court, the political will of Florida’s citizens and its legislature will determine the future of public schools.
This is an election year. It could bring new hope for better education policies. Washington State has shown us we cannot just leave education policy up to the courts. They can only say what should be done. The public has to say what will be done.
“Amicus asks the Court to issue an order that unless the State amply funds its public schools as our constitution requires by April 28, 2017, the Court will suspend the State’s tax exemption statutes enacted by the Legislature.” https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2855005/McCleary-WPD-Brief-2016.pdf
If lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee haven’t fully complied with McCleary by the end of the regular 2017 legislative session, the court could rule the school system unconstitutional, which could lead to shutting it down.
In a second option, Ahearne argues that if the state doesn’t comply by the end of that session, the court should strike down all tax exemptions enacted by lawmakers, to raise education revenue.”
EXCERPT of Brief of Amicus Curiae filed in Washington Supreme Court, June 8, 2016
Ultimately, the State’s true level of actual commitment to complying with its paramount duty appears seems revealed more clearly through its actions than its words in this Court. Although it could not find the money or will to fund basic education for common schools for more than one million children across the state, it exerted considerable effort to ensure funding for the .1% of children in charter schools. See Laws of
2016, ch. 241. Indeed, in its report to this Court, the Legislature counts its investment in charter schools as an example of the State’s increased investment in education. Legislative Report at 8, 25-26 (May 18, 2016). Yet the Supplemental Budget amount devoted to charters is not an increase in education spending. Instead, the Legislature shifted money from common schools to charter schools. Id. at 35 (explaining that the Legislature made a “downward adjustment to funding for common schools and add[ed] corresponding funding for charter school[s] . . . .”). Rather than amounting to evidence that the Legislature is attempting to fulfill its paramount duty to amply fund an education for all children in this state, the Legislature’s decision to take money away from common schools and transfer it to charter schools is further evidence that the State has chosen to not meet its constitutional obligations. At most, it is a moving around of money from common to non-common schools.
PP 8-9. . . .
This Court should consider a stronger contempt sanction to motivate the State to comply with this Court’s Orders. Not only should the Court deny the State’s request to find that it has purged the contempt, it should consider avenues to enforce the fines already accrued. In addition, WPD urges this Court to issue an order stating that if the State does not amply fund basic education by the last date of the 2017 legislative session (April 28, 2017), the Court will suspend the State’s over 600 legislative-enacted tax exemption statutes. Plaintiffs in this case have argued for this sanction. Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Timely 2016 20 Briefing Schedule at 13-15 (Nov. 18, 2015); see also Plaintiffs’ 2015 Post-Budget Filing at 47-48. Likewise, a member of this Court discussed invalidating the approximately $30 billion a biennium included in the over 600 exemption statutes. See Sept. 3, 2014 Show Cause Hearing, at minutes 43:39-45:296 (Johnson, J., A.C.J.) (noting option of Court invalidating the State tax exemptions and leaving it up to the Legislature to re-enact exemptions it so chooses after the Legislature amply funds basic education). This sanction would compel the State, and specifically the Legislature, to comply with this Court’s orders and amply fund basic education. P.20