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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lawsuit challenges education amendment for Florida charter schools

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 2:53 PM

A constitutional amendment that could create more charter schools should be removed from the November ballot because it is misleading, the League of Women Voters of Florida alleged in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

“The ballot title and summary for (Amendment) 8 do not, in clear and unambiguous language, fairly inform the voters of a chief purpose of the revision,” the lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court, alleged.

The amendment was advanced by the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the ability to place constitutional changes directly on the general-election ballot.

The amendment combines three different issues into one ballot measure. It would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members. It would require “civic literacy” be promoted in public schools. And it would allow charter schools and other public education initiatives to be authorized by entities other than local school boards, which now make those decisions.

The lawsuit alleged the charter-school provision “was intentionally drafted to be vague” and it concealed the “chief purpose” of the amendment, which is “to eliminate the long-standing, exclusive authority of local elected school boards to operate, control, and supervise all public schools, including charter schools, in their respective school districts.”

The ballot measure fails “to inform voters that the effect of the elimination of the exclusive authority of local school boards over public schools would be to allow any person or entity, public or private, to be designated as authorized to authorize, operate, control, and supervise newly created charter schools and potentially other unspecified public schools,” Tallahassee lawyer Ronald Meyer and attorneys for the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in the 14-page complaint.

Allowing the amendment to remain on the ballot would prevent voters from realizing that “a yes vote could allow unaccountable political appointees or even private organizations to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” League of Women Voters of Florida President Patricia Brigham said in a press release after the challenge was filed Thursday.

The lawsuit also challenged as “ambiguous” language in the ballot summary that refers to schools “established” by local school boards, noting the state Constitution does not specify how public schools are established.

“Voters have no way of knowing or determining from this language which or how many schools will be affected by the revision,” lawyers for the voting-rights group wrote.

While defending the proposal during a debate in April, Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, a Collier County school board member, said the charter-school provision was aimed at revising a portion of the state Constitution that has been interpreted by courts to give exclusive authority to school boards to operate and control all public schools in their districts.

Donalds said the revision would allow the Legislature to offer more educational “choices,” such as charter schools, to students and their families.

“The Legislature should not be encumbered by unfair and antiquated constitutional language that has been used to block parental choice and protect the education monopoly,” she said.

Donalds has created a group,, to raise money and to promote Amendment 8, one of 13 constitutional changes on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot.

With Thursday’s lawsuit, three of the eight ballot measures approved by the Constitution Revision Commission are being challenged in court.

Greyhound breeders and trainers are asking the court to remove Amendment 13 from the November ballot, alleging the measure that seeks to ban all racing at dog tracks by 2020 is misleading and inaccurate.

Broward and Volusia counties have filed lawsuits seeking to have Amendment 10 removed from the ballot. The measure would require charter counties to elect all of their constitutional officers, including sheriffs.

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