Plaintiffs: Schools Failing High-Quality Mandate

Mar 14, 2016

Attorneys for the reform group Citizens for Strong Schools told a Leon Circuit judge Monday the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality education.

Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds heard opening arguments Monday in a trail to determine whether Florida is living up to its constitutional mandate to provide a high quality education.

The lawsuit is the latest attempt by advocates to get lawmakers to spend more on public schools.

In 1998, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment making education the state’s highest responsibility. 

The amendment says that means a, “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality,” system.

Citizens for Strong Schools sued in 2009, citing siting inadequate per-student funding and teacher salaries.

Judge George Reynolds refused the state’s motion to dismiss, and the Florida Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear the state’s appeal.

Citizens attorney Neil Chonin began the non-jury trial by painting a dismal picture of Florida schools.

“Look at our African-American number. Fourteen percent of our African American students are college ready. Three percent of our English language learners are college ready. Twenty-seven percent of our Hispanic are college ready.”

But state Board of Education attorney Rocco Testani urged Reynolds to focus instead on how far Florida has come in closing the gap between white and non-white students since 1998.

He pointed to dramatic improvements in NAPE scores, or National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“We’re now No. 1 in the county against states that spend a lot more money, against state’s that have fewer poor students against states that have fewer disadvantaged students. Florida is No. 1.”

Testani promised to call some of the state’s top reform experts, including former Education Commissioner Frank Brogan.