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Supreme Court Wades Into Long-Running Education Funding Lawsuit


The Florida Supreme Court will take up a long running lawsuit over public school funding. The lawsuit began in 2009 and has made its way through the courts, spanned two governors, multiple education commissioners, and three house and senate leaders.

Nearly a decade after it was filed, the suit is now before the Florida Supreme Court, which accepted jurisdiction over the case Monday. At issue is whether the state legislature is upholding a constitutional mandate to adequately fund a safe and high-quality public education system. Kathleen Oropeza, with the group Fund Education Now, testified two years ago that she believes the state isn’t.

“There’s a system of uneven and unfair different systems of publicly funded education that’s been created that serves to denigrate the district schools," Oropeza said at the time.

Among the list of complaints, is that the state is funding two separate systems of education. In her 2016 testimony Oropeza took aim at standardized testing, the state’s school grading system, its corporate tax scholarship program and charter schools.:

“They are diverting desperately needed funds away from district schools and they’re funding schools that are no better than the schools that they’re diverting the funds from," she said, noting programs like the corporate scholarship program (referred to colloquially as vouchers) coupled with charter schools-- takes dollars away from traditional public schools.

Courts have refuted that argument in previous lawsuits upholding the programs. 

“We don’t want to make all our schools good schools, just some of our schools," says Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall. 

The teachers union president says when it comes to her thoughts on the system as a whole, the differences between schools doesn’t just come down to parity in funding, but parity in opportunity.

“Parity doesn’t always mean equal, Lynn. It just doesn’t. Because affluent schools have parents and PTA’s that raise money—you have tax bases in some areas that put more into schools than in the high-poverty areas.”

The union wasn’t a part of this lawsuit, but it too has challenged the state on funding in the past.

In 2016, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds the plaintiffs didn’t prove their case. he noted in his ruling there wasn’t a correlation between funding and student performance, and that Florida students have made gains in national education benchmarks like NAEP, often called the “nation’s report card.” The Florida Supreme Court, is now wading into the fight. It will schedule oral arguments at a later date. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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