Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin on Tuesday evening asked her colleagues to consider suing the Legislature and the governor for not abiding by a constitutional mandate to adequately fund local education. The board set a meeting on April 19, at 1:30 p.m., to discuss the matter. Following is the text of Conklin’s remarks to the board.
I ask for your consideration to engage our school district in a legal suit against the Florida State House, Senate and Governors Office on failure to comply with Article IX of the State Constitution.
Let me provide some historical context as this has been explored before.
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- Florida Constitution: Article IX
In 1995, a group filed a complaint against then-Governor Lawton Chiles. The lower courts dismissed the case as it failed to determine the meaning of adequacy. Advocates turned to citizens to determine their desire to support education in the state of Florida through strengthening the constitutional language.
In 1998, voters approved an amendment to strengthen the educational clause in the state constitution. The new language made Florida’s education clause some of the strongest in the nation: “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…”
In 2006, Miami Dade took the approach to fight something in the funding formula called the “District Cost Differential.” This is when districts are penalized based on the “amenities” that they have such as beaches and theme parks, which are presumed to bring in additional revenue to that local community. This also works in reverse. Poorer districts can receive an allocation through the cost-differential formula. In 2006, Miami Dade took an $88 million dollar hit due to a recalculation of the formula. Their claim was that this violated the “uniformity” of the education clause.
In 2008, The Florida School Board Association Board of Directors, of which at the time I was a member, voted unanimously to file a suit against the state for violation of the Article IX. After discussion with key legislators, FSBA backed off and tried to work with legislators to find solutions to key issues. In my opinion, backing off was a mistake.
In 2009, there were two suits that were filed by parent and education advocacy groups. The state filed to dismiss the case. A court denied the dismissal request based on the fact that the new constitutional language had not been tried before. The case is moving forward.
The recommended approach for the Flagler County School district is to ask: whose responsibility is it to fund education? Does that responsibility fall on the shoulders of local officials or state officials? The constitution clearly answers this question: “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 . . .”
Year after year the state legislature has abdicated this responsibility and has forced local school boards to ensure the adequate funding of our schools through voter referendums and federal stimulus aid. The state knew this funding was going to be depleted this year and has not prepared for this event. The Flagler County School District has worked for the last three years to build up our reserves in preparation for this drop in funding–what we’ve referred to as the “funding cliff.” If it were not for these reserves and the voters of Flagler County supporting the half-penny sales tax and the quarter-mil tax, we would be in dire straits.
Our district can be proud of the fact that we are so technologically rich compared to many other districts, but today providing students with technology has become a basic staple of properly preparing students for the 21st century. The continuation of the quarter-mil tax, which brings in about $2 million, allowed us to lessen the drastic budget cut that still remains and must be dealt with. Our reserve of around $7 million will help soften the blow but only for a short period of time, as we will quickly be forced to use it.
I humbly request that we schedule a workshop to discuss the viability of moving forward with such legal action.
Colleen Conklin, a Flagler County School Board member since 2000, can be reached by email here.