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As Fight Over Education Amendment Rages In Court, Creator Says '8IsGreat'

Collier Co. School Board and Constitution Revision Commission Member Erika Donalds promotes Amendment Eight during a 4th of July parade in Naples. Donalds is the architect of the multi-tiered proposal.
Erika Donalds

The League of Women Voters of Florida is hoping to persuade a Leon County Circuit judge today to strip a constitutional amendment proposal off the November ballot. The amendment in question is number eight, which combines several issues into one proposal like term limits for local school board, mandating civics be taught. But  the part the league takes issue with the section that deals with approving new charter schools.

The League of Women Voters accuse the crafters of Amendment Eight of intentionally trying to mislead voters about its intent.

“What it says is, that the ballot summary has to clearly and unambiguously provide what the chief purpose for the amendment is," says the league's attorney Ron Meyer. "Because they packaged three things together…they don’t have a lot of room what the purpose is.”   

The league's llawsuit targets the part of the amendment that deals with charter schools.

"Local school boards should operate and control all schools established by the district school board," Meyer reads from the text, "those last three words are the new boards. And the fact of the matter is no one really knows, aside from the people who concocted this scheme, what that is intended to mean.” 

Critics of the plan see that language as a way to bypass school districts and allow other groups or entities to approve charter schools.  But the amendment's creator, Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, says the language is intentionally vague to make room for innovation.

"There is a misconception that this amendment is about charter schools. The free public schools that could be established through this innovative policy could be magnet schools, collegiate high schools such as vocational and technical high schools created by state colleges for students who want a fast track to a well-paying career, or new schools not yet considered," writes the '8IsGreat' pro-Amendment Eight campaign in a press release.

Greg Richmond heads the is with the national association of charter school authorizers. While he’s not weighing in on the merits of Amendment Eight or the lawsuit, he says the issue of an independent charter school authorizer is a national one. Florida has been a charter pioneer, but it’s now in a minority of states where only school districts can approve the publicly-funded yet privately managed schools.  

“Most states have the school district and someone else as an option, and that seems to work well to have those different options about who can approve a new charter school," he says.

That’s not to say having independent charter school authorizers is a perfect plan. Richmond points to Ohio, where there are too many independent authorizers causing potential schools to “shop around” for the lackest oversight in what he describes as a race to the bottom. Instead, Richmond says the goal should be approving needed and quality schools.

“Too often on these ballot initiatives it becomes about politics and power and whose side you’re on and that’s what people get fixated on. What people have to ask themselves is how to we create more good schools for kids. And people with goodwill may come to different conclusions on this. Some people may think only school districts, others may think the best way is to…allow other folks to authorize schools.”  

As the fight over Amendment Eight rages in court, Donalds, is  fighting for public opinion. In the same press release, she calls the campaign an attempt to correct “misinformation from groups fundamentally opposed to educational choices for Florida public school students.”