Florida Funding Lawsuit Moves Forward

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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An adequacy lawsuit in Florida is moving forward after a Circuit Judge ruled against the state’s motion to dismiss the case. Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Bd. of Education was filed late last year and charges that the state is not maintaining its constitutional responsibility to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

Florida education officials responded to the lawsuit by saying that students were making significant progress on state tests. State officials also argued in court that the lawsuit was a political question and that the state constitution’s education clause did not provide reviewable questions. The trial court rejected all of the state’s claims.

The lawsuit charges that a reduction in the state’s 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 lawsuit charges that these violations disproportionately impact student in minority groups and students with special needs. The lawsuit seeks to require the state to formulate a "remedial plan" to comply with the constitutional requirement.

The recent decision finds that a failure to hold the state legislature to the constitutional amendment’s standards would effectively nullify the will of Florida citizens. Attorneys working on the case do not expect a trial before 2011; they anticipate the case will ultimately be heard before the Florida Supreme Court.

In a separate lawsuit, the Florida Education Association (FEA) lost its challenge to a ballot initiative that gives voters the opportunity to revise a constitutional amendment governing class sizes.

Amendment 8, which was passed in 2002 and took full effect this school year after a phase-in period, sets rigid class size limits for all Florida public schools.

But an initiative on the ballot in November will, if passed, allow flexibility for schools on these limits. (See August RSFN coverage.) FEA challenged the initiative, claiming it is misleading because it does not say the flexibility could result in a reduction in funding. Judge Charles Francis disagreed, saying that the summary and title of the initiative accurately describe the proposed change to the amendment. FEA attorneys say they plan to continue a public information campaign about the measure and will take a challenge to Francis’ decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

Read more:

Local coverage about the finance adequacy lawsuit:

Website of one of the plaintiff organizations, Citizens for Strong Schools:

Interview with one of the lead parents in the funding case:

Class size limits lawsuit coverage:

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.