Public school funding lawsuit will go to trial

Lawsuit was first filed in 2009

By Gary Fineout
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The fate of Florida’s public schools could soon be decided at a landmark trial.

After three years of legal wrangling, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block a lawsuit that accuses the state of shortchanging Florida’s public schools.

This means that lawyers for Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature will now have to defend the amount of money that goes into public school classrooms and the state’s high-stakes system of testing.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2009, claims the state hasn’t lived up to a constitutional requirement for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.”

Besides funding cuts in recent years, the suit cited underpaid and under-qualified teachers, elimination of funding for a seventh period and summer school, violence on school grounds, low graduation rates and testing requirements that allegedly have reduced quality.

The lawsuit was brought against the Legislature by four parents or guardians and two students from Duval and Pasco counties as well as two advocacy groups: Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now.

The initial legal clash has been over whether a court could even determine if the state’s system of schools lives up to what’s called for in the constitution. Lawyers for the Legislature had argued that no court has the authority to order legislators how much to spend on schools.

But a Leon County judge refused to throw out the initial lawsuit. That decision was upheld by a sharply divided appellate court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a rare ruling by all 15 judges, also asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide if the constitution provides sufficient standards for a court to decide those issues and provide relief.

The appeals decision was decided by an 8-7 vote.

In dissent, Judge L. Clayton Roberts, wrote that the issue is “quintessentially political” and, therefore, cannot be decided by the courts.