Monday, July 16, 2018

Appeals court upholds ruling against Florida education funding challenge

Florida's First District Court of Appeal has agreed with the trial court against a group of parents who complained the state had violated its constitutional role to fund an "an efficient, safe, secure and uniform high-quality education."

The case, filed in 2009,  questioned whether the Legislature and executive branch did enough to meet the "paramount duty" in serving children's educational needs.

[Related coverage: Lawsuit aims to increase Florida education funding]

On Wednesday, the appellate court released its ruling that the question was not for the judicial branch to decide.

"There is no language or authority in Article IX, section 1(a) that would empower judges to order the enactment of educational policies regarding teaching methods and accountability, the appropriate funding of public schools, the proper allowance of charter schools and school choice, the best methods of student accountability and school accountability, and related funding priorities," Chief Judge Bradford L. Thomas wrote for the court.

Words such as "high quality" and "efficient" are political aspirations, Thomas wrote. They do not provide courts with sufficiently objective criteria to judge the actions of a co-equal branch of government, he stated.

The debate over how to best educate citizens has endured for centuries, and across civilizations, Thomas observed.

"In a republican form of government founded on democratic rule, it must
be the elected representatives and executives who make the difficult and profound decisions regarding how our children are to be educated," he wrote. "Absent specific and clear direction to the contrary in the supreme organic law, which does not exist in Article IX, section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution, we uphold the trial court's correct ruling that such decisions are not subject to judicial oversight or interference."

The court further ruled that the McKay Scholarship, a voucher program for students with disabilities, does not violate the uniform education provision within the constitution: "We agree that the John M. McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities – which affects only 30,000 students and does not materially impact the K-12 public school system – provides a benefit to help disabled students obtain a high quality education."

The ruling remains open to further appeal.

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