Charter groups hope to sway Florida Supreme Court to put education-related Amendment 8 back on the ballot

Key charter school supporters and two community groups are urging the Florida Supreme Court to keep an education-related Constitutional amendment on the ballot in November, saying, “Students should not be denied the best, most innovative learning options because of constitutional barriers.”

The amendment was kicked off the ballot last week, when a Leon Circuit Court judge ruled that the language is misleading and doesn’t accurately inform voters.

The so-called Amendment 8 would allow a state entity of some kind — rather than local school boards — to establish, operate, control and supervise certain public schools, presumably new ones and likely “charter” schools that are public but run by private groups. Local boards often reject new charter schools.

Getting the state involved would be a significant change in the role of local school boards, which isn’t explained in the ballot summary, according to the circuit judge. The amendment has now landed in the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the Florida Charter School Alliance filed briefs today, stating that “voters should be allowed to decide the future of school choice in Florida.” That means allowing students to go to a school, such as a charter school, that isn’t in a traditional neighborhood school zone.

Florida already has one of the largest charter school movements in the country, with more than 280,000 students in charter schools in 2016-17. And that number would likely increase if Amendment 8 is approved.

The amendment “would clearly allow the Legislature to pass legislation creating an independent, statewide authorizer of public charter schools that operates in addition to district school boards,” the brief states. In fact, Florida is only one of six states that allows only local boards to authorize charter schools.

Allowing a state entity to approve more charters “ensures Florida is able to maintain its edge on other states in providing access to high quality public education for every student,” the brief states.

The Urban League of Miami and the Central Florida Urban League also provided briefs, asking the Florida Supreme Court to keep Amendment 8 on the ballot.

The two nonprofit groups stated: “For far too long, minority children and children in poverty were sentenced to attend local public schools designated for their zip codes, but the introduction of Florida’s charter public schools and other school choice options has helped minority students break that cycle somewhat.”

The Florida Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the case at 2 p.m. Sept. 5, at the Fourth District Court of Appeal Courthouse, 110 S. Tamarind Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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