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Groups object to paying legal costs in education battle

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Plaintiffs in a long-running court fight about Florida's education system are objecting to an attempt by the state to force them to pay more than $378,000 in legal costs.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office last month filed a motion to recoup $378,799 from the plaintiffs after a Leon County circuit judge ruled in favor of the state in the underlying case about whether Florida is providing an adequate public-education system.

The plaintiffs, including individuals and the groups Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc., and Fund Education Now, filed a document this month objecting to paying the costs, which include such things as the costs of expert witnesses.

"Plaintiffs are six indigent individuals and two not-for-profit citizen organizations," said the document filed in Leon County circuit court. "They did not seek individual relief and will not personally gain from the lawsuit. They brought this suit in the public interest to obtain a declaration regarding the state's fulfillment of its constitutional duty to provide a high quality public education."

While the plaintiffs hope to avoid paying any of the costs, they also objected to specific expenses, totaling nearly $198,000, according to the document.

The case was filed in 2009 and was rooted in a 1998 constitutional amendment that 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 lawsuit alleged that the state had failed to comply with the constitutional amendment, but Circuit Judge George Reynolds disagreed in a May 24 ruling.

"The weight of the evidence shows that the state has made education a top priority both in terms of implementation of research-based education policies and reforms, as well as education funding," Reynolds wrote in the ruling.

The plaintiffs have appealed Reynolds' ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal.