Florida parents win round #1 in court vs. budget cuts to schools

Each and every year here in Florida, parents spend our hard-earned money building public education for our children.  We pay our property taxes to fund our schools only to see billions cut from education budgets.   Wanting the best for our children, we send in hundreds of millions of dollars in crayons and paper.  We sell enough wrapping paper to cover the earth three times.  We use that money to pay for direct classroom needs like books, smart-boards and computers.  This asset belongs to us.

Despite these facts, Florida politicians continue to make high art out of subverting the will of the people.  They do not value our state constitution as the purest expression of the peoples’ will.   Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution clearly instructs the Florida Legislature that their “paramount duty” is to fund a free high-quality system of public education for every child.

Instead, Florida politicians, coached by Jeb Bush and the American Legislative Exchange Council, are laser-focused on showing the whole country the most expedient way to sell public education off to the highest bidder.  Clearly, a majority of Florida politicians, tempted by special interest dollars, now ignore their official oath to uphold the state constitution.   Our public servants refuse to serve us.

So our organization, Fund Education Now.org, along with Citizens for Strong Schools sued in the Florida state court on November 18, 2009.

Attorneys representing State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and the Florida Legislature filed a countersuit, using an obscure writ to try to stop the suit and deny the courts the right to consider whether the Florida Legislature has met its “paramount duty” to the people as described in Article IX, section 1 of the state constitution.  Their attorneys claimed that the funding of Florida public education was purely a “political matter.”

Just before Thanksgiving, the First District Court of Appeals told Florida politicians “no.”  In a rare move, the entire panel of 15 judges voted 8/7 to deny the writ of prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” sending it directly to the Florida Supreme Court.  Here is a copy of the decision.

Have Florida politicians forgotten that we, the taxpayers, are the reason they have any money at all to send back to our school districts?  The explosion of “education adequacy” lawsuits springing up in states from Texas to Maine means that people everywhere are weighing the same question.

The court did its job.  The eight judges who solidly rejected the State’s move to silence the voice of the court have brought hope to every classroom in this country.  Their decision says that the court believes it can decide whether Florida public education fails the high-quality test.  It says this case is not just about funding:

Does Article IX, Section 1(A), Florida  Constitution, set forth judicially ascertainable standards that can be used to determine the adequacy, efficiency, safety, security and high quality of public education on a statewide basis, so as to permit a court to decide claims for declaratory judgment (and supplemental relief) alleging noncompliance with Article IX, Section 1(A) of the Florida Constitution?

This is Florida’s chance at redemption.  Instead of providing outrageous supermarket headlines, Florida just may be the place where the whole country learns the truth behind the “education reform agenda.”   The court action will force an unvarnished discussion.  It won’t take long for average citizens to see that these unwanted, unfunded “reforms” are a shameless scheme to rob public tax dollars from the education pot of gold meant for our children.  Maybe then, the word “no” will be on everyone’s lips.

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org.  She and her partners Christine Bramuchi and Linda Kobert are plaintiffs in the lawsuit mentioned in this article.  Contact her at Kathleen@fundeducationnow.org

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