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Bitter Clash Over Charter Schools Behind Supreme Court Decision To Kill ‘Defective’ Ballot Measure

| October 17, 2018

justice barbara pariente

Justice Barbara Pariente in a still from a video broadcast of the Supreme Court in session.

After saying last month that it was blocking a controversial education measure from the November ballot, the Florida Supreme Court has released details of the ruling that show sharp differences about a proposal that one justice said would have brought a “monumental” change to the state Constitution.

Justices, in a 4-3 decision, said the proposed constitutional amendment had “defective” ballot wording that would not inform voters of the measure’s “true meaning and ramifications.” The ruling centered on how the proposal would have affected the creation of charter schools — a hot-button issue in Florida’s education system.

The state Constitution Revision Commission, which was largely appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders, approved the proposal this spring to go before voters Nov. 6. The proposal linked three issues: imposing term limits for school boards, requiring the promotion of civic literacy in schools and changing part of the Constitution that gives school boards the power to operate and control schools in their districts.

The proposed ballot summary, in part, said, “Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

Charter-school supporters have repeatedly battled in recent years with county school boards, which have authority to approve new charter schools. The proposed constitutional amendment could have opened a new avenue for the establishment of charter schools outside the control of county school boards.

The Supreme Court majority, made up of justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga, said the proposal would not explain key ramifications of the amendment to voters.

“By limiting a district school board’s authority to operate, control, and supervise to only those public schools it establishes, a somewhat indirect — but significant — limitation is also placed on the authority of district school boards to establish, or approve the creation of, public schools within their districts. It is this significant but undisclosed effect of the amendment that had the fervent support of charter school advocates,” Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion joined by Lewis.

“Rather than advise voters of this critical change — which would have allowed a debate on the merits of centralized, uniform control of the establishment of charter schools — the ballot summary fails to explain the true effect of the amendment,” Pariente added. “In fact, the ballot summary disguises this monumental change to our state Constitution by vaguely referring to school board ‘duties’ and using terms that voters would not easily understand, such as ‘established by’ and ‘not established by’ — terms not previously used in the Florida Constitution.”

But Chief Justice Charles Canady, in a dissent joined by justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, wrote that the ballot summary — the wording voters see when they cast ballots — “correctly identifies the chief purpose of the proposed amendment.”

In reviewing proposed constitutional amendments, the Supreme Court is supposed to look at the wording of the ballot title and summary and not delve into the merits of proposals. Canady, who wrote that he “strongly” dissented, contended that the court majority improperly made its decision by going into the detailed text of the proposed constitutional change.

“Here, as in the case of many constitutional provisions, space is established for the Legislature — which promulgates state policy through laws consistent with the Constitution — to make various policy choices related to implementation of the amendment,” Canady wrote. “As the summary discloses, the amendment clearly affects schools not established by a school board. The policy choices related to such schools are properly left by the amendment to the Legislature. To conclude otherwise — as the majority does — is to attack the substance of the amendment itself.”

The 37-member Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has unusual power to place proposals directly on the ballot. The commission this spring approved eight amendments for the Nov. 6 ballot, but several drew legal challenges, including a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida seeking to block the education measure.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper in August ruled that the amendment should not go on the ballot, prompting the state to take the dispute to Supreme Court. Justices last month said they were blocking the amendment but did not issue the full opinions until Monday.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

Detzner v. League of Women Voters (2018)

8 Responses for “Bitter Clash Over Charter Schools Behind Supreme Court Decision To Kill ‘Defective’ Ballot Measure”

  1. Merrill Shapiro says:

    Can someone point me to evidence that any Charter School in Florida is doing a better job educating its students than traditional public schools that share its catchment area? And while doing that, please keep in mind that Charter schools are NOT required to accept special needs students and public schools ARE required to so! BTW Evidence=the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

  2. Michael Cocchiola says:

    We know the true purpose of charter schools is for conservatives to have schools that “preach” their beliefs – about history, civics, science and current world affairs. Conservatives want to weaken public schools by siphoning off funding that would otherwise be used to educate children and thus make them into liberals.

    We know this.

  3. Sherry says:

    Right On Merrill and Michael!

    Charter schools have essentially served to bring back segregation in our educational systems. Children of color and those with special needs are generally left to being educated in “public” schools, while the mostly “white” children of conservatives are shifted to “charter” and “religious” schools.

    If you want your child educated according to your religion or political stance. . . do not use “my” taxes to pay for it.

  4. jake says:

    @merrill, michael and sherry,

    “To opponents, the spread of charter schools means nothing less than the demise of public education or, as they will tell you, “real” public schools.”

    “Charter high schools are equal to or better than their traditional peers. That’s a fact.

    It’s a reality that is widely supported by other research. A Stanford University study found that charters do a dramatically better job educating children of color than traditional public schools. They do this while meeting the same curriculum, oversight and financial standards as traditional public high schools.”

  5. Pogo says:

    @jake calls opinion a fact



    Proof Positive that Charter Schools Are Better

    Howard Fuller and Nina Rees

    jake, opinion, by definition, is NOT fact, but this is:

    Howard Fuller (activist)

    Nina Rees? Nina Rees is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Gee, what’s your opinion – Nina?

    Want facts? Want facts about Florida? Start here:

    Schools Without Rules: An Orlando Sentinel Investigation

    “The Orlando Sentinel spent months reporting on Florida’s scholarship programs, which will send nearly $1 billion to private schools this year. The Sentinel also reviewed thousands of pages of Florida Department of Education documents, court records and other materials in addition to interviewing dozens of people, including parents, students, school operators and policy experts…”

    Link to full series of reports

  6. gmath55 says:

    I for one can say my Catholic school I attended from 1st to 8th grade was a better education then any public school. How do I know? When I entered the 9th grade at a public school I was by far more educated then my peers. I was actually one grade above them. My parents paid for the private school education plus paid taxes for the public schools. GO FIGURE!

  7. Sherry says:

    Thanks POGO. . . we always need to check for agendas and for credibility when it comes to labeling so called “FACTS”.

  8. jake says:

    @pogo & sherry, so Stanford University isn’t good enough for you, yet a “newspaper” is gospel. Since both of you, and Michael and Merrill, are making the claim that Charter Schools are for racist, political, and religious reasons, how about some facts to support this.

    “The truth is that public charter schools are giving long overdue opportunities to minority children by providing high quality educations. America should be praising them. Instead, crusaders like Weingarten use their lies to influence Americans and disempower thousands of minority families.”

    “A 2015 report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes revealed that after four years in a charter school, the typical urban student was getting half a year more learning every year than demographically similar peers, with similar past test scores, in district-operated schools.”

    “Public charter schools have done what traditional public schools have failed to do for decades: educate our most disadvantaged kids. America should be celebrating them, not crucifying them for their lack of diversity.”

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