Florida Supreme Court strikes charter school amendment from November ballot

In a close 4-3 ruling, Florida Supreme Court justices struck an education amendment off the November ballot that would have essentially allowed the state to bypass local school boards and set up charter schools on its own.

Despite its profound potential impact on the state's charter school system, the proposed Amendment 8 – placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission – didn't even use the words "charter school" in the ballot language. The measure would have imposed eight-year term limits on school board members, required the promotion of "civic literacy" in public schools and allowed the state to run and control public schools "not established by the school board."

In August, a Leon County circuit judge knocked the proposal off the ballot, agreeing with the League of Women Voters that the amendment misled voters about potential effects on the power of local school boards. The Supreme Court's ruling on Thursday upheld this previous order.

"The failure to use the term voters would understand, 'charter schools,' as well as the use of a phrase that has no established meaning under Florida law, fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal," Circuit Judge John Cooper wrote in his August ruling. "Contrary to the language of the ballot summary, the amendment was intended to permit that power be given to a wide variety of third parties, potentially including private entities."

In a statement after the Supreme Court ruling, the amendment's sponsor Erika Donalds said "activist judges" decided against Florida voters having a say in "whether to allow the monopoly over schools to continue."

"The League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center were so busy protecting a system – protecting power and control – that they lost sight of the children, and the families who desire and deserve great public school options," Donalds said in a statement. "We know that choice, competition, and innovation are the avenues to continuous improvement for our education system. The education monopoly will not reform itself or welcome needed competition without policy changes."

But Patti Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said Donalds and other backers of Amendment 8 went "beyond confusion to intentional deceit."

"The backers of this proposal on the CRC went to great lengths to hide the ball because they realized that Floridians would never knowingly forfeit their right to local control over their local public schools," Brigham said in a statement. "If the backers of this amendment truly wanted this decision to be left to the voters, they would have put it forward as a stand-alone amendment in clear, unambiguous language. They had every opportunity to do just that."

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