Attorneys for the Southern Legal Counsel issued a statement regarding Judge Reynold’s ruling in the Citizens for Strong Schools vs. the Florida State Board of Education et al. The judge ruled for the State. Basically, the ruling will be appealed. This is no surprise; it would have been appealed regardless of which side won.
SLC issued the following statement:
“Today, the Second Judicial Circuit Court issued an order that ignores the overwhelming weight of the evidence that the public education system in Florida is failing more than a million students. Even though Florida’s constitution is the strongest educational mandate of all the states, the court incorrectly concluded that the constitution has no judicially manageable standards and that the court is prohibited from ordering relief due to separation of powers. Southern Legal Counsel plans to appeal this decision and continue to seek a high quality education for all children in Florida”.
The final judgment considered the claims and counter claims over the constitutionality of the Florida educational system. Highlights include:
- Judge Reynolds ruled that the State has made education a top priority in terms of funding. Moreover, he states that neither the defendants or the plaintiffs established the connection between the amount of resources and educational outcomes.
- The Differentiated Accountability system needed legislative attention. The fact that schools could remain in ‘F’ status over a number of years was the judge’s primary objection to the state system. He argued, however, that the defendant’s own evidence showed that a school could be turned around without additional funding.
- Districts were part of the state system. Districts had control over local management and funding allocations and the State was not responsible for ineffective local management.
- The constitutionality of school choice was dismissed by the judge. He did not agree that charters and tax credit funded private schools had a negative effect on the system.
- Judge Reynolds wrote: “The evidence shows that many of Florida’s educational policies and programs are subject to ongoing debate without any definitive consensus in the education community. They are political questions best resolved in the political arena”, and
- “The Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgement without a judicially manageable or enforceable remedy.” In other words, the cost study sought by the Plaintiffs was not a remedy.
While Judge Reynolds did concede that there were areas of concern in the Florida educational system, they did not rise to the level of constitutional violation. This was a David vs. Goliath case. It was reported that the State spent over two million dollars on its side while Southern Legal Counsel’s expenses were around $600,000. SLC has to raise funds from donations while the State uses tax payer funds. Going forward, Florida citizens will need to help equalize the balance.