By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Things could be getting very interesting for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature, and their push for education by charter school, private school and the Internet.
The day before Thanksgiving, an appellate court in Tallahassee served up some good news for public education. The First District Court of appeal refused a request by the state of Florida to block a lawsuit alleging that state officials have reneged on their constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.”
Actually, paragraph (a) of article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution goes much further, particularly after a 1998 Constitutional revision strengthened the state’s commitment to education.
This is what the state Constitution has to say:
“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”
About two years ago, four parents and two students, along with two organizations — Fund Education Now and Citizens for Strong Schools — filed a lawsuit alleging that cuts and other executive and legislative actions had violated that constitutional responsibility.
And that was before Scott and the legislature cut more than a billion additional dollars from public schools while steering millions toward charter schools, private schools and web-based education.
“The likelihood is pretty high that the situation after this session will be significantly worse for public education,” former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills told the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting back in March.
Mills knows the subject fairly well. He helped draft the 1998 constitutional revision that gave us the language in Article IX, section 1, paragraph (a). Now he’s fighting on behalf of that language and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
FCIR first let readers know about Mills and his lawsuit after a judge called a “special master” in New Jersey ruled that $1 billion in cuts there had violated the state’s constitutional mandate for a “thorough and efficient” public education. In that March piece titled “Are Rick Scott’s Education Cuts Unconstitutional?”FCIR raised the possibility that Scott and the legislature’s actions might also be in violation of the state Constitution.
After Wednesday’s ruling, Floridians are one step closer to getting that question answered.