The plaintiff completed its case today. The State’s attorneys said that the plantiff really had no case, and argued that the case should be dismissed. The judge did not agree. Calls for dismissal may be standard procedure in such trials, but it is a good way to not only see what the defense will argue and but also gives glimpses into what the judge is concerned about.
The defense in a nutshell stated that the state educational system did not cause failing students or schools by saying teachers and principals are the most important factors in school success. The district hires staff and manages schools. Thus, if you have persistent failing schools, then the remedy is to get a new school board, teachers and principal. Their legal basis was article IX section 4 of the constitution which states that school boards are responsible for managing schools.
The judge countered that the state was not powerless, and he questioned why the state did not intervene with persistently failing schools. The defense attorney countered that the state has a turn around plan, but the district implements it. Thus, the state meets its obligation. The prosecution rebutted by saying that assistance is only directed to schools that struggle the most, and it is inadequate. They asked what assistance is provided for struggling students in schools that do not have failing school grades? The judge commented that low achieving students enrolled in good schools did have access to a high quality education. The defense argued that students from low income families in struggling schools received federal Title I funds to provide assistance in addition to state funds.
Some additional arguments included:
- Funding adequacy. The defense argued that districts do not levy all of the millage they are legally allowed–10 mills. Moreover, many districts keep reserve funding in excess of the 3% mandated by the state. The prosecution countered that districts must keep higher reserves because property values change which affects school funding. Cost also fluctuate. Some districts have more resources due to higher property values which provided more. local funding than other districts. This is an equity issue. Moreover, when districts are able to meet basic needs like more time in school for struggling students, they do so out of grants or local referenda.
- Who is accountable? The prosecution argues that the State system holds districts, teachers and students accountable but not itself. The defense emphasizes that there is no evidence that the State system is responsible for failing schools. The judge, however, suggests ‘F’ schools could be evidence of system failure. The defense counters that more money would go to things other than better teachers and management practices. Districts instead must prioritize to fix failing schools. Moreover, meeting class size requirements assures high quality as per statutes. The judge questions this by asking if a class has no supplies etc. He also questions the validity of the prosecution’s argument that teaching to the test is a valid concern. Teachers teach to the standards which is legitimate.
- What is high quality? Are students being given the opportunity for a high quality education? Schools should not be required to correct all social schools, the defense argues. They state there is no coherent standard to judge high quality. Judge Reynolds states that while there is no consensus on what the standard is, there may be consensus on what is not.
- Should all students be expected to meet standards? A key argument in which the judge posed questions was over the expectation that all students should meet state standards. No one anticipated that 100% of Florida’s children would reach proficiency levels. Therefore, what was an acceptable expectation? The prosecution argued that while all children should be expected to learn and the gap between affluent and poor children should narrow, the conditions they needed to learn were not met. W
- What should the outcome of the trial be? When the judge asked the prosecution what ruling they would want the court to make, the response was that the state should do a cost study to determine what the minimum cost of a high quality education should be. The defense dismissed the concept. Their argument was that districts should manage their money better and raise local taxes to meet needs as allowed by law.