The Florida Supreme Court on Friday deep-sixed a contentious proposed constitutional amendment dealing with schools from the November ballot, agreeing with a lower court that the proposal’s intentions toward charter schools were poorly worded.
Justice Jorge Labarga was the swing vote, siding with the court’s liberal triumvirate of Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince. The conservative faction of Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson dissented.
“An opinion setting forth our reasons for this decision will issue at a later date,” a one-paragraph order said. “Rehearing will not be entertained.”
The proposed amendment was bundled together earlier this year by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The problematic matter had to do with the creation of a new category of public schools not controlled by local school boards: Essentially state-supervised charter schools.
In addition, Amendment 8 also would have set term limits on school board members statewide, and would have required civics education in all schools.
The League of Women Voters of Florida went to court to challenge this amendment’s language, alleging that it hid the amendment’s true purpose.
“We’re really pleased that the Florida Supreme Court has agreed with the League on this,” League President Patricia Brigham said Friday afternoon. “It really shows the backers of this on the CRC went to great lengths to hide the ball, because they realized that Floridians would never knowingly forfeit their right their local control over local public schools.”
Backers, represented by the campaign committee 8isGreat.org, decried the ruling.
“Voters deserved to have a say in whether to allow the monopoly over schools to continue, but activist judges have decided otherwise,” Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member and the main sponsor of Amendment 8 on the CRC, said in a statement released by 8isGreat.org Friday afternoon.
The league had challenged the amendment in Tallahassee circuit court, contending that the bundled language not only hid the intention of creating state-monitored charter schools outside of local school districts’ control, but bundled that with the far more popular idea, school board member term limits, to get it past voters.
Critics charged the amendment was “sugar-coated.”
Earlier drafts of the CRC proposal specifically talked about state-supervised charter schools. However, the final version of the revision offered as a constitutional amendment didn’t use the words “charter schools” at all.
Instead the language would have rewritten the duties of the local school boards to open the door to schools not “established” by the school board, and therefore outside of the school board’s purview.
On Aug. 20, Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed with the league’s objections and issued a summary judgment to jettison the amendment from the ballot. He wrote that “the ballot summary … clearly and conclusively fails to adequately inform the voter of the chief purposes and effects of the revision, and is affirmatively misleading.”