After a 9-year legal debate, the Florida Supreme Court recently voted down a lawsuit that claimed the state fails to provide sufficient funding to meet its constitutional duty to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.” The claim was based on a 1998 amendment to the Education Article of the Florida State Constitution, which declares education as a fundamental value. In addition to claiming inadequacy of state education funding, the case, Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. v. Florida State Board of Education, also alleged that two of the State of Florida’s school voucher programs were in violation of a uniformity provision of the Florida state constitution. The January 4th ruling of the court determined that neither claim was appropriate for determination by the court and that such matters were to be determined by the state legislature.
The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) is deeply disappointed that the lawsuit filed by Citizens for Strong Schools, a parent advocacy organization, was not allowed to proceed with full consideration and review by the Florida Supreme Court particularly considering that 59% of the current 4th-grade students in Florida are not on grade level in Reading. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Florida maintains a 26% 4th-grade reading performance gap between black and white students as well. There is nothing “uniform” or “high-quality” about these results.
As stated in SEF’s latest Policy Positions document, we believe states have a public duty to increase school funding to “address historical and present-day achievement gaps.” SEF strongly calls upon the Florida General Assembly, the governor, and state education officials to guard against any interpretation of the court’s most recent ruling to justify any retreat from the constitutional obligation to advance equity in public education.
As a result of Florida’s Supreme Court decision, it is even more paramount that the newly elected Governor and the Florida legislature invest in proven strategies, such as personalized learning, high-quality professional development, and wraparound services that meet the academic needs of every child.