Friday, October 19, 2018

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.

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Updated: 10 hours ago

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/19/18

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/19/18