Charter schools oversight at heart of lawsuit against Amendment 8

Measure would also require term limits for school board members

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Polls consistently show Floridians like term limits. And more civic literacy --- who could argue with that?

The state Constitution Revision Commission this spring decided to put a proposal on the November ballot that would impose eight-year term limits on school-board members and would require the Legislature to take steps to better promote civic literacy in schools.

Sounds simple enough.

But next Friday, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments about whether he should block the proposal, known as Amendment 8, from going on the ballot because of a dispute about another part of the measure.

The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to block Amendment 8. The group contends ballot language doesn’t adequately inform voters that one part of the proposed constitutional amendment is designed to open the door to more charter schools in the state.

The growth of charter schools, which are public schools typically operated by private groups or companies, has spawned numerous political and legal battles in recent years. Some of those battles have centered on the reluctance of county school boards to approve new charter schools.

The lawsuit argues that the proposed constitutional amendment includes language that would allow entities other than school boards to approve charter schools --- and that the amendment would not make that effect clear to voters.

“The purpose of Revision 8 is to allow the Legislature to … remove from local school boards their current constitutional authority and duty to directly authorize and supervise public schools and … allow that authority to be given to one or more unspecified public or private entities,” attorneys for the League of Women Voters wrote in a court filing. “But the title and summary of Revision 8 obscure the first purpose and affirmatively mislead voters on the second.”

But in defending the proposal during a debate in April, Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, a Collier County school board member, said the charter-school provision was aimed at revising a portion of the state Constitution that has been interpreted by courts to give exclusive authority to school boards to operate and control all public schools in their districts.

Donalds said the revision would allow the Legislature to offer more educational choices, such as charter schools, to students and their families.

“The Legislature should not be encumbered by unfair and antiquated constitutional language that has been used to block parental choice and protect the education monopoly,” she said.