A legal and philosophical battle over the control of public schools is now headed toward the Florida Supreme Court, with the stakes high over an education-related Constitutional amendment that could be retained or removed from the Nov. 6 ballot.
At least for now, the controversial Amendment 8 is off the ballot, based on a ruling this morning by Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper. That ruling concluded that the language in the amendment is misleading and fails to adequately inform voters.
Lawyers already filed an appeal later Monday at the First District Court of Appeal, and attorney Ronald Meyer said both sides have agreed to take the matter up to the Florida Supreme Court within days.
“It is appropriate to pass it directly to the Supreme Court,” Meyer said, given that time is limited in determining whether the amendment will stay or go on the ballot in November and because the case is of “great public importance.”
Meyer represents the League of Women Voters of Florida and its top officials, who filed a lawsuit over Amendment 8 that packaged three different issues: Term limits for school board members, civics education, and the ability for a state entity of some kind – rather than local school boards — to approve, monitor and supervise public schools.
That last initiative is the most controversial not only because so many issues were thrown into the ballot measure, but because the education landscape could change markedly if Amendment 8 is approved by voters.
Critics said that allowing some other state entity to oversee certain public schools would usurp longtime local school authority, particularly over public charter schools run by private groups.
Florida already has one of the largest charter school movements in the country. And proponents say Amendment 8 would open the door for even more charter schools. That’s because the state – rather than local boards which often reject charter school applications – would now have a new avenue to get charters approved.
A group called 8isGreat.org has been in support of the amendment and said in a statement that the judge’s ruling was a disappointment.
Erika Donalds, the main sponsor of Amendment 8 on Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission and a Collier County school board member, said: “The group suing to remove Amendment 8 from the ballot fundamentally opposes empowering families to choose the education setting that best fits their child. Despite the speculation and bunk they’ve spread, I hope voters will be able to make their own decision in November. It is disgusting how many misrepresentations the opposition is willing to put forth to block student-centered school choice options.”