Thursday, June 21, 2018

Parents ask Florida Supreme Court to send school funding suit back to trial court

Arguing the trial and appeals courts didn't properly consider their authority, parents suing Florida over its public education funding system have asked the state Supreme Court to send the case back for another review.

The lower courts ruled that they could not objectively determine whether the state had met the constitutional terms for funding a high quality public education, contending the language is not measurable.

Related coverage: Appeals court upholds ruling against Florida education funding challenge 

Not so, the plaintiffs say.

"The Florida Constitution's separation of powers provision does not bar Parents' suit because they are not asking the judiciary to encroach on the legislative duty to make educational policy, nor are they asking the courts to make appropriations or order the Legislature to do so," attorneys  for the plaintiffs in Citizens for Strong Schools wrote in a brief, made public Tuesday.

"Parents instead seek only declaratory relief, and for courts to fulfill their traditional responsibility to: (1) interpret constitutional terms, and (2) determine if the other branches have acted constitutionally. Article IX mandates that the Legislature act, which it has done, but that does not take away the judicial responsibility to ensure that those actions are consistent with Article IX's restrictions on legislative power."

They suggested the case be sent back for consideration "under the correct standard of review."

The group has argued that state funding of public education has not met the 1998 constitutional standard. In the brief, the lawyers pointed to wide disparities in funding and achievement levels among the 67 counties in Florida, and within the counties as well.

"Parents presented evidence to the trial court that not all children are learning the core content knowledge, as measured by wide disparities in achievement on state assessments, especially for children experiencing poverty or attending school in poorer school districts," the lawyers wrote.

Districts have differing abilities to raise funds for education, as well, they noted.

They also raised the issue of McKay Scholarships, in which families can take voucher money to private schools, which they argue are not free or uniform — issues that were tackled in previous lawsuits.

The case has been ongoing since 2009. Most recently, the "framers" of the 1998 constitutional language sought to join the case, a move that state attorneys deemed "irrelevant."

Read the complete brief here.

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