On November 8,2018 the Florida Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether Florida is meeting its “paramount duty” to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” The constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 1998 assigned this responsibility to the state. Has Florida met its obligation to the children of Florida?
Two lower courts have ruled in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education that the question is not one for the courts to decide, and that it is instead up to the Florida Legislature. The plaintiffs disagree.
“At the heart of this case is really whether the Florida Constitution has any meaning at all in the eyes of our courts,” said Jodi Siegel, the executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville-based, statewide nonprofit law firm representing the parents and advocacy groups that filed original case and have appealed it to the state’s highest court.
“The lower courts have basically said that only two of the three branches of our government have any responsibility for enforcing an amendment that clearly expresses the will of the people when it comes to one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government – educating the state’s children,” Siegel said. “We believe the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that the courts not only have that authority, but in fact that it is their sworn duty to uphold the Florida Constitution – and not just select parts of it, but all of it.”
Southern Legal Counsel filed the case in 2009, and it has been working its way through the courts until now. If successful, the parents and advocacy groups are requesting that the Court remand the case back to the trial court with instructions on how to interpret and apply the education clause. They contend that, when viewed under the proper legal standards, the evidence presented at trial shows clear disparities in the opportunity provided to children to receive a high quality education. For example, the evidence presented showed that more than 40 percent of Florida students are not passing statewide assessments in reading and math.
The Florida League of Women Voters strongly supports the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.