Friday, October 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Florida Supreme Court insisted on clarity in removing Amendment 8

To paraphrase the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, there they go again ó activist judges getting all huffy and interfering in a perfectly lovely conspiracy to scam the public.

We recently observed the hard work of the Constitution Revision Commission, which was really nothing more than a bunch of hand-picked gofers tapped by Gov. Rick Scott and his cronies to rewrite the constitution to transform Florida into subsidiary of special interest hustlers.

In theory, the great unwashed public was supposed to have a say in how the CRC went about its business. But this democracy claptrap can get so nettlesome.

Ultimately, the citizenry had less input into the CRCís final work product than a Venezuelan peasant.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 opinion, has taken off the ballot Amendment 8, which would have taken away the authority of local school districts to oversee charter schools. Instead, control over charter schools would be transferred to Tallahassee.

Cha-ching! What could possibly go wrong?

The prevailing justices concluded there were just a few teenie-weenie problems with Amendment 8, most notably that the ballot language did not even include the words "charter schools." Too picky?

Amendment 8 also would have had the result of increasing public dollars given to privately operated charter schools at the expense of public school funding. What might we call this? Corporate educational welfare?

The ballot language in question simply stated the purpose of Amendment 8 "... permits the state to operate, control and supervise public schools not authorized by the school board."

The words "charter schools" were nowhere to be found in the amendmentís title, nor its ballot summary.

Both the League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center led the legal charge against Amendment 8, arguing the measure was vague and misled voters. Insert "Duh!" here.

The decision annoyed Erika Donalds, a Collier County school board member who also served on the CRC. Donalds lambasted the court and its "activist judges" for preventing voters from voting on something they knew precious very little about.

Oh, the arrogance of the Florida Supreme Court for demanding proposed amendments on a ballot ought to clearly and unambiguously describe their intent.

Charter schools in Florida are big business, often owned and managed by corporate interests, albeit underwritten by public monies.

Removing oversight of charter schools by local school districts would also diminish transparency and accountability.

After the court ruling, Donalds stormed the barricades of indignation, vowing to carry on the phony fight to "provide pathways for school choice."

Good luck with that, but the next time Donalds tries to foist off a charter school amendment on the public, could she at least remember to include the term "charter schools" in the ballot language? This is really too much to ask?

Traditional public schools frequently take a beating in the charter debate, attacked fairly or not, for low student achievement test scores and sometimes less than quality environments to promote learning.

Whatever happened to Tallahasseeís Republican dominated political culture that gives lip-flapping fealty to free enterprise?

If a group of investors want to open a private school with their own money, go ahead. Have a nice time. We have any number of privately owned and managed schools throughout the state. And parents are more than welcome to enroll their children in them. Thatís called choice. Itís a free country. But taxpayers ought not to be on the hook to pay for it, especially if it means fewer dollars available to meet public school needs.

Amendment 8 was nothing more than an effort by Donalds and the CRC to pull the wool over the publicís eyes by intentionally creating a vaguely worded measure they failed to disclose its true intent.

Insisting on clarity and fairness in an amendment that could have far-reaching impact on Florida public education hardly constitutes the definition of an "activist" judge.

In questioning a lawyer defending Amendment 8, Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga simply asked if the intent of the measure was to let voters know what they were voting on, "Why not just come out and say it?"

Too technical? Too "activist"? In Tallahassee, the answer is yes.

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