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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida circuit court judge rules for state in education adequacy lawsuit

A Florida circuit court judge has dismissed a case alleging that the State Board of Education and, by extension, the Legislature had failed to meet their constitutional "paramount duty" of providing a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality education for all public school children.

Judge George S. Reynolds III threw out all complaints in the Citizens for Strong Schools case, saying the defendants had failed to meet their burden of proof.

"The weight of the evidence shows that the State has made education a top priority both in terms of implementation of research-based education policies and reforms, as well as education funding," Reynolds wrote in his 29-page judgment. "The State has an accountability and assessment system that is rated among the best in the nation, resulting in more 'A' grades schools over time. The State has also adopted rigorous teacher certification, training and evaluation standards, resulting in over 94% of courses being taught by teachers who are 'highly qualified' under federal standards."

Read the judge's final order for his full reasoning.

Reynolds did not reject the notion that there are funding disparaties and other concerns. They just didn't rise to the level of action.

"The Court finds, based on the evidence presented, that there is not a constitutional level lack of resources available in Florida schools," he wrote. "That doesn't mean that everything is perfect, it simply means that there is not a constitutional level crisis sufficient to warrant judicial intervention."

The dispute was one of the ages, he suggested.

"It became clear that the evidence was focusing on Plaintiffs' 'need for more resources' argument on the one hand and Defendants' 'demand for greater efficiency' argument on the other," he wrote. "Each side believes the evidence supported their respective positions. This equation is an ancient one and finds its genesis in the natural tensions between labor and management. However, the burden of proof rested upon the Plaintiffs not the Defendants."

State Senate president Andy Gardiner applauded the decision.

"Today's ruling validates the Legislature's policy choices on education which have dramatically improved student performance over the past 15 years and vaulted Florida to the top tier nationwide," Gardiner said in a released statement. "Furthermore, Judge Reynolds affirmed the Legislature's decision making on our state budget, recognizing the State's continued commitment to education while balancing the needs of our growing state and the realities of our constitutional responsibility to annually pass a balanced budget."

He noted that the decision supports the state's many school choice options, as well as the Legislature's primary authority to set policy and hold school districts accountable.

"I am hopeful that today's ruling will cause other groups to re-evaluate their attempts to deprive tens of thousands of students with unique abilities and students from low-income families of the educational opportunities their parents have selected," he said.

Background: Trial challenging Florida's education system gets underway in Tallahassee

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 3:47pm]


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