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Education Advocates Hope To Revive Adequacy Suit

Florida Channel

Education advocates ran into a buzz saw of tough questions Tuesday in their fight to revive an adequacy lawsuit based on a 1998 constitutional amendment.   Appellants cited test scores, but a three-judge panel with the First District Court of Appeal appeared skeptical.

Citizens for Strong Schools attorney Jodi Siegel argued Florida’s public schools can’t possibly be meeting the “high-quality” and “uniform” standard voters demanded when testing shows thousands of poor and minority students are lagging behind.

But Chief Judge Bradford Thomas demanded to know how the courts are supposed to weigh in when the amendment doesn’t define the terms.

“What is the judicially manageable standard by which this system, this incredibly complex, multi-billion-dollar system, is going to be judged to be determined whether it’s a high-quality system?”

Without a definition, Thomas said, it becomes a political question for the Legislature to decide. It’s one reason Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds III dismissed the suit last year.

Rocco Testani, the Legislature’s attorney, said gains in student performance since 1998 prove the state isn’t just meeting the standards, it’s exceeding them.

“The state of Florida is now a leading state in performance for students, including the students that everyone should be concerned about. The free and reduced lunch, the disadvantaged students, are No. 1 in the country on NAP, which is the gold standard for measuring the quality of a school system.”

It’s not clear when the court will rule.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.