Three education ideas in one proposed Florida constitutional amendment earns negative reviews

The Constitution Revision Commission meets the week of April 16 to debate the recommendation.
Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds moves two education-related proposals through her Constitution Revision Commission local government committee on Dec. 14, 2017. [The Florida Channel]
Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds moves two education-related proposals through her Constitution Revision Commission local government committee on Dec. 14, 2017. [The Florida Channel]
Published April 13, 2018|Updated April 14, 2018

In the Florida Legislature, the act of lumping several unrelated ideas together in one bill is called logrolling, and it's generally frowned upon.

In the vicennial Florida Constitution Revision Commission, it's allowed. And commissioners are taking that liberty on several measures, including three that they're recommending be combined into one education question (P 6003).

The proposal, which appears on the commission's April 16 calendar for consideration, would ask voters to approve school board member term limits, a state charter school authorizer, and a civics education requirement in schools.

If placed on the ballot, Floridians would have to decide whether they like one idea — term limits is polling very well — enough to also okay another much less popular idea, allowing the state to set up charter schools without school board participation.

Some former school district leaders have begun crying foul.

"Voters beware!" former Miami-Dade School Board chairwoman Janet McAliley wrote in a column for the Miami Herald.

She called the proposal a "power grab" by state politicians using "sneaky words."

"Why? So voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in our county — a job that our local elected School Board does now," McAliley wrote.

Former Volusia County schools executive director of facilities Pat Drago, now chair of the League of Women Voters education committee, shared the sentiment.

In a column for TC Palm, Drago blasted the effort and urged Floridians to make their displeasure with the "shell game" known.

"There are multiple opportunities for subterfuge at this point in the process, but if Floridians make enough noise, perhaps there is a chance to keep at least one wolf in sheep's clothing off the ballot," Drago wrote.

CRC member Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member, sponsored the term limits and the state authorizer measures. She cast the complaints as yet another attempt by the "education establishment" to undermine parental choice.

"Here come the lies from the education establishment!" Donalds wrote on her Twitter account, in response to McAliley's column. "The proposal gives power to PARENTS – power that local school boards currently hoard – to make academic decisions on behalf of students *even when* parents don't agree. Bureaucrats think they know better than us about our kids!"

The commission is scheduled to begin its deliberations on the remaining proposals at 10 a.m. Monday in the Florida Senate chambers. It must send all its ballot measures to the Secretary of State by May 10.

Constitutional amendments require 60 percent voter approval to be enacted.

UPDATE: A group of 13 organizations has sent a letter to CRC chairman Carlos Beruff, urging him to unbundle the proposals still remaining for consideration.

The organizations are ones that frequently fight against actions of the Republican-dominated government, such as the Florida Education Association, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The CRC is dominated by Republican leaders and their appointees.

The group writes, in part:

"On behalf of all Floridians, we urge you to stop playing political games with our Constitution. Each proposal, on its own, should get an up or down vote in the commission and the voters should have the same opportunity. We can all smell an attempted political manipulation a mile away. And right now this process is not passing the smell test."