‘Framers' say courts can decide education dispute

By The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Pushing back against a ruling last year by an appeals court, members of the 1998 state Constitution Revision Commission argued Monday that courts can decide whether Florida is carrying out a duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Ten members of the 1998 commission filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Florida Supreme Court in a lawsuit about whether the state is complying with the constitutional duty.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the group includes people such as former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.

The issue stems from 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 appeals court in a December ruling said that the issues in the case “raise political questions not subject to judicial review, because the relevant constitutional text does not contain judicially discoverable standards by which a court can decide whether the state has complied.”

But in the brief Monday, the former Constitution Revision Commission members disagreed.

“To find that there are no judicially manageable standards is to find (the constitutional amendment’s) text and its intent meaningless and unenforceable,” the brief said. “Under that interpretation a future legislature could appropriate one dollar for public education or allow patently unsafe public schools and the courts could do nothing.”

The constitutional amendment said 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. 

News Service of Florida