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Lawsuit Over Education Adequacy Goes Forward

August 26, 2010 - 6:00pm

A circuit court judge has ruled that a parents group can continue with a court challenge of the states education system, rejecting a request by the Legislature to throw the suit out.

The lawsuit, filed by a coalition of groups called Fund Education Now that includes parents of school children, argues that the government is violating the state Constitution by failing to adequately pay for high quality public schools.

The Legislature asked Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford to dismiss the challenge to the law, saying that lawmakers have the absolute discretion to implement the details of the education system within constitutional parameters and the courts dont have any role in interpreting how it is doing that. A big issue in whether the education system is adequate is how much money goes into it, and legislators argued they have sole budgeting authority.

The Legislature cited a 1996 case in which the court found that blanket assertions against the education system cant be ruled on by the courts essentially saying that it was impossible to argue in court whether something is adequate, which would be in the eye of the beholder. They also argued that the matter basically involves a political question.

But Fulford denied the motion to dismiss, and a challenge to the plaintiffs standing, saying that the groups werent merely making blanket assertions, but providing a series of specific allegations about the weakness of the states education system and how it is funded.

She also said that since 1996 when a court rejected a similar lawsuit alleging schools were inadequate, saying the wording was vague voters have added Article 9 to the state Constitution, which was put into the Constitution exactly to provide standards to measure the education system.

The plaintiffs argued that the system has all kinds of deficiencies that directly violate the new article.

Defendants argue that these deficiencies cannot be reviewed by any court, Fulford wrote. Ultimately, their position is that the judiciary has no role in interpreting Article 9 and that the Legislature has absolute discretion to implement any system, checked only by the ballot box. This conclusion renders the citizens vote to create a new education article as meaningless and this provision as a nullity.

On the issue of whether the parents and others in the group have standing to challenge the law, Fulford said they do.

The directors and members of the two (groups) are Florida citizens and taxpayers and are parents of children attending Florida public schools, Fulford wrote. They would have standing as individuals; thus, they have standing as an association.

A spokeswoman for the House said leaders there wouldnt have any comment because the lawsuit is still in the courts.

Fulford hasnt set a trial date in the case and gave the Legislature 20 days to file a response to the plaintiffs complaint.

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