Every year Florida parents spend our hard-earned money building public education for our children. We pay our property taxes to fund our schools only to see billions cut from education budgets.. Wanting the best for our children, we send in hundreds of millions of dollars in crayons and paper. We sell enough wrapping paper to cover the earth three times. We use that money to pay for direct classroom needs like books, smart-boards and computers. This asset belongs to us.
Despite these facts, Florida politicians continue to make high art out of subverting the will of the people. They do not value our state constitution as the purest expression of the peoples’ will. Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution clearly instructs the Florida Legislature that their “paramount duty” is to fund a free high-quality system of public education for every child.
So our organization, FundEducationNow.org, along with Citizens for Strong Schools sued in the Florida state court on November 18, 2009.
Attorneys representing State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and the Florida Legislature filed a countersuit, using an obscure writ to try to stop the suit and deny the courts the right to consider whether the Florida Legislature has met its “paramount duty” to the people as described in Article IX, section 1 of the state constitution. Their attorneys claimed that the funding of Florida public education was purely a “political matter.”
Just before Thanksgiving 2011, the First District Court of Appeals told Florida politicians “no.. In a rare move, the entire panel of 15 judges voted 8/7 to deny the writ of prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” sending it directly to the Florida Supreme Court.
The court did its job. The eight judges who solidly rejected the State’s move to silence the voice of the court have brought hope to every classroom in this country. Their decision says that the court believes it can decide whether Florida public education fails the high-quality test. It says this case is not just about funding:
Does Article IX, Section 1(A), Florida Constitution, set forth judicially ascertainable standards that can be used to determine the adequacy, efficiency, safety, security and high quality of public education on a statewide basis, so as to permit a court to decide claims for declaratory judgment (and supplemental relief) alleging noncompliance with Article IX, Section 1(A) of the Florida Constitution?
This is Florida’s chance at redemption. Instead of providing outrageous supermarket headlines, Florida just may be the place where the whole country learns the truth behind the “education reform agenda.” The court action will force an unvarnished discussion. It won’t take long for average citizens everywhere to see that these unwanted, unfunded “reforms” are a shameless scheme to rob public tax dollars from the education pot of gold meant for our children.
Article IX, Section 1, Florida Constitution (1998 Revision)
“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”
FundEducationNow.org joined Citizens For Strong Schools on November 18, 2009, to file a lawsuit charging that the Florida legislature has failed to deliver a high-quality system of free public education to the people of this state as stated in Article IX, Section 1 of Florida Constitution.
Attorneys Jon Mills, the late Thom Rumberger and Neil Chonin and Jodi Siegel of the Southern Legal Counsel filed the suit. As an author of the 1998 revision of Article IX, Jon Mills – formerly Florida Speaker of the House and Dean of the University of Florida Law School – is keenly aware of the massive economic and social loss that our state faces as a result of its chronic failure to make public education a priority.
Oath of Office
We expect our Legislature to obey the entire state constitution. We expect elected officials to put their oath to the constitution of the state of Florida above party politics. Sadly, the actions of most Florida lawmakers tell us that they do not respect their oath of office. This is what they swear to with their hand resting on a Bible:
I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida; that I am duly qualified to hold office under the Constitution of the State, and that I will well and faithfully perform the duties of _____.
- Original Suit
- Motion to Dismiss
- Decision: Motion to Dismiss
- Writ of Prohibition
- Decision: Writ of Prohibition
- Unfunded mandate
Predicting the Outcomes of Adequacy Lawsuits
Historic Lawsuit Challenges California’s Unconstitutional Education Finance System
- Case: Lobato v. State of Colorado, filed 2005
- Judge: Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport
- Plaintiff: Taylor Lobato, a former student of Center School District.
- Trial timeline: Late summer through early September
- Status: Awaiting Judge’s written decision
The central point of Colorado’s first education “adequacy” lawsuit asserts that the state has set high standards of achievement for students and schools without providing adequate funding to meet those demands. Plaintiff witnesses have stated that computers, broadband for Internet access, and professional development are among the resources that Colorado schools have lacked for years.
Plaintiff Taylor Lobato, a former student of Center School District claims that: Center schools had no AP or IB classes Offered limited textbooks and Internet access. * All students in the state deserve a “better education than I got.”
Suit also alleges that: Colorado supplies schools with too little resources Demands high standards Education system violates the state constitution’s local control clause Deprives school boards control over instruction * Violates the “Education Clause”, which requires the General Assembly to provide a “thorough and uniform system of free public schools.”
Trial Over School Funding Ends After 5 Weeks, Nelson Garcia, September 2, 2011
Courts Hear Colorado Constitution Case, Angela Pascopella, District Administration, September 1,2011,
Lobato Case Primer, Todd Engdahl, Education News Colorado, August 11, 2011
Plea for Better Schools Gets Personal, Patrick Malone, Pueblo Chieftan, August 20, 2011,
Lobato v. Colorado, Colorado Attorney General, complete history of filings, pleadings and briefs
Colorado’s School Funding System Goes on Trial, Todd Engdahl, Education News Colorado, Todd Engdahl, August 1, 2011
TABOR: Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a misleading name for a law that freezes and undermines a state’s ability to make long-term investments in areas that are key to economic prosperity and potentially make Florida a much less attractive place to live.
Colorado is at present the only state with a TABOR, the brainchild of Grover Norquist who runs Americans for Tax Reform and has forced the hand of politicians by urging them to sign the restrictive “tax pledge” in exchange for “considerations.” Schools in Colorado have been squeezed of funds , class sizes exceed 60 students, parents must pay for bus rides to and from school, only half the students have access to books and all sports, including football are pay to play with parents spending thousands every year for children to play sports.
The result of TABOR in Colorado is the sharp removal of all local control and the stripping of voters’ ability to freely choose how to spend their own tax dollars. The measure is so restrictive that many conservative leaders in Colorado have rescinded their support of this damaging bill.
In 2005, Colorado voters suspended the TABOR formula to halt the deluge of harmful budget cuts that had occurred and were slated to occur under TABOR. Since Colorado adopted TABOR in 1992, over 20 state legislatures have rejectedTABOR, and it has been voted down in every state in which it reached the ballot. — Source: Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy
Florida Politicians Seek to Impose TABOR
Florida politicians, led by Senate President Mike Haridopolos are currently pushing a version of TABOR called “Smart Caps.” Florida voters will see this measure on the 2012 Presidential ballot. It is up to every Florida voter to understand this ill-advised bill. and determine
Future Uncertain if Plaintiffs Win Education-Funding Lobato Case, Tim Hoover, The Denver Post, August 7, 2011
Funding Education Adequacy: Rhode Island v. Connecticut, Op-Ed/Dianne Kaplan deVries, CT NewsJunkie, October 10, 2011
Defining Education Adequacy, Op-Ed/Dianne Kaplan deVries, CT NewsJunkie, October 3, 2011
http://flaglerlive.com/23091/flagler-school-suit Unfunded mandate
Education For All: It’s in the Constitution, Michael V. Ciresi and Roberta B. Walburn, Star Tribune, June 12, 2011,
New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the state to spend an additional $500 million on public education in poor districts next year (2011-12).
- The suit centered on whether Gov. Christie’s cuts to education spending were unconstitutional
- Court concluded that funding cuts disproportionately harmed at-risk students in poor districts, breaking the state’s constitutional obligations.
- The court’s decision caps the latest iteration in the historic and controversial school funding case Abbott v. Burke, which has routed billions of dollars to the state’s neediest students over the past three decades in an effort to equalize spending between New Jersey’s poorest and wealthiest districts.
According to the majority opinion written by Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said Christie’s cuts to education spending have been “consequential and significant” and must be rolled back. She also wrote that the state, which had promised to fully fund the formula, cannot back away from it when funding poor districts.
“Indeed, our holding in (the 2009 case) was a good-faith demonstration of deference to the political branches’ authority, not an invitation to retreat from the hard-won progress that our state had made toward guaranteeing the children in Abbott districts the promise of educational opportunity,” she wrote. “Regrettably, the state did not honor its commitment.”
N.J. High Court Funding Decision Leaves Few Satisfied, Catherine Gerwertz, EdWeek, June 8, 2011,
Christie Says He Won’t Fight NJ Supreme Court Order to Add $500M in Funding for Poor School Districts, Chris Megerian, Statehouse Bureau, May 24, 2011
How the New Jersey and New York State School Finance Formulae Create Educational Equity Gaps, Stephen Coffin, The Alternative Press, June 23, 2011
In June of 2011, the state of Texas was sued by three different groups. Although the suits differ in some ways, all three agree that the school finance program in Texas is so fatally broken that the public’s only hope for relief from current political actions is through the courts.
Groups who sued: Texas School Coalition Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition * Austin Independent School District
Constitutional issues targeted by suits:
- State property tax: Because districts have so little control over their local tax rates, school finance has become a de facto and unconstitutional statewide property tax.
- Adequacy: The current tax system provides inadequate funding to meet the state constitutional guarantee of a quality education for all children, and a new, unified set of funding formulas should be put in place.
- Efficiency: The multiple funding formulas created by target revenue are arbitrary and create multiple funding systems.
- Equity: As poorer school districts receive less money per student than wealthier districts, the system is inherently inequitable.
School Lawsuits Multiply, Richard Whittaker, Three Groups of Texas School Districts are Suing the State Over the Public School Finance System, Austin Chronicle, November 4, 2011
Texas Schools Sue State, Say Funding Is Unfair, Associated Press, APRIL CASTRO and PAUL J. WEBER. Huffington Post, 10/11/11 04:30 PM ET.
Texas Facing At Least Two School Funding Lawsuits, Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune, October 6, 2011,