Adequacy Lawsuit File in Florida


Last Updated: December 29, 2009
 

This article appeared in the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

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A new adequacy funding lawsuit has been filed in Florida on behalf of eight plaintiff students. In Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Bd. of Educ., lawyers for the students along with two nonprofit organizations cite decreasing state funding and increased reliance on local funding as part of the evidence that the state is not living up to its constitutional responsibility.

Florida has one of the strongest state constitutional education clauses. That clause calls education the state’s “paramount duty” and requires a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

The lawsuit claims that the reduced state share of school funding — down to 45% this year from 62% in 2001 — and overall underfunding have caused unconstitutional conditions in schools and forced districts to cut programs and forego hiring qualified teachers.

The suit also points out that cuts to education funding made Florida one of only three states that did not automatically qualify for federal stimulus funding. In addition, the lawsuit cites high rates of fighting, drug abuse, and suspension and expulsions in public schools as violations of the “safe and secure” constitutional language.

The lawsuit charges that these violations disproportionately impact student in minority groups and students with special needs. Plaintiffs are asking for a declaratory judgment that the state is in violation of the constitution and an order for a remediation plan to address the deficiencies.

State and education leadership named in the suit have responded that there have been significant gains in achievement in Florida over the last ten years.

The last adequacy suit in Florida, Coalition for Adequacy and Fairness in School Funding v. Chiles, was dismissed in 1996 on grounds that the court would be usurping legislative power to judge the adequacy of funding. Following that decision, a successful campaign was launched to amend the constitution to make education the state’s paramount duty. The new language makes it clearer that the court does have a role in determining whether the state is meeting its constitutional obligations.

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Read more from the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters.