State objects to ‘framers' playing role in schools battle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Attorneys for the state objected Friday to a proposal by 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission to file a brief in a legal battle about whether Florida is meeting its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the former Constitution Revision Commission members filed a motion last month asking for approval to file a friend-of-the-court brief at the Florida Supreme Court.

But attorneys for the state filed a 19-page response Friday arguing that the request to file a brief should be denied.

“Here, movants (the 10 former commission members) purport to reconstruct their individual, subjective views about what they intended as members ‘who proposed and voted in favor of amending Florida’s education provisions’ almost two decades ago,” Friday’s response said. “The proposed brief would not reflect the views of the entire CRC, of all the members who voted in favor of the amendment, or even of a majority of those members. The 10 movants do not speak for the 37-member CRC, and their views are not probative of the meaning of the Florida Constitution.”

The proposed brief is part of a long-running lawsuit led by the group Citizens for Strong Schools, which argues that the state has failed to comply with the 1998 voter-approved amendment.

A Leon County circuit judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected the arguments, leading Citizens for Strong Schools and other plaintiffs to go to the Supreme Court.

The 1998 constitutional amendment says it is a "paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."

The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of public schools.

The plaintiffs argue the state has not met those standards and should be forced to take steps to carry out the constitutional amendment.

But the 1st District Court of Appeal said, in part, it is not the role of judges to determine education policy.

The 10 former commissioners seeking to file a brief include former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.