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Amendment 8 and the Future of School Choice

September 17, 2018 - 1:00pm

The Florida Supreme Court may have struck down a proposed education amendment to the state’s constitution, but the issue the measure raised can’t be easily dismissed.

In a 4-3 decision, the court removed from the November ballot Amendment 8, which would have given the state the authority to establish and operate public schools, bypassing local school districts. The four justices affirmed a lower-court ruling that the amendment’s language was misleading because it “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect” of the measure.

Although Amendment 8, which was placed on the ballot by Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, bundled three different education-related proposals into one ballot item, opponents objected to the part that would permit the state “to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.” Critics argued that the vagueness of that statement was meant to obscure its real purpose: to transfer the power to create charter schools from local school districts, where they often encounter opposition, to the state, which has been more receptive of charters.

Charter schools initially were part of the public discussion in drafting Amendment 8. However, both its sponsor, Erika Donalds, a CRC commissioner who is a prominent charter school advocate, and Blaine Winship, the state’s lawyer who defended the measure in court, explained that the word “charter” was not included in the final language because no one can predict the innovations in school choice, and the commission didn’t want to constitutionally limit future education opportunities.

“In another five years,” Winship argued before Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper, “who knows what the nomenclature will be?”

The courts didn’t buy that argument with regard to the legality of the ballot language. But that shouldn’t invalidate the underlying truth.

The CRC meets every 20 years.  The last time the panel convened, in 1997, school choice in Florida looked nothing like it does today. The state had just enacted a law authorizing charter schools. In 1997, there were five such schools serving 574 students; today there are more than 650 charter schools educating nearly 300,000.

The McKay Scholarship for children with disabilities wasn’t created until 1999. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (which are administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog) didn’t exist until 2002. Florida Virtual School, an online learning site, was established in 1997 with only 77 students; today, it’s the largest state virtual school in the nation.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which upheld the constitutionality of public funding of private school vouchers and opened the door for greater expansion of those programs. The Florida Supreme Court struck down a state-funded voucher program in 2006, while lower courts have affirmed the FTC scholarship.

Clearly, school choice is constantly evolving, being shaped by technology, politics and the courts while being driven by parental demand. Absent a crystal ball, government at all levels will have to be nimble and flexible in accommodating new ideas.

Amendment 8 attempted to address a contradiction in the Florida Constitution. Although it holds the state responsible for providing a “high quality” system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a “high quality” education, it gives local districts substantial control over that process (school boards “shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district”). Sometimes their goals conflict, stifling innovation and choice.

More collaboration between the state and school districts, and more avenues to pursue change, would increase opportunities for families to customize education to fit their children’s needs.

In striking down Amendment 8, Judge Cooper wrote that it “invents a category of school — those ‘not established by the school board’ -- that is undefined in Florida law.” The wording may not have passed legal muster for a ballot measure (the so-called “truth in packaging” accuracy requirements). But just as the Founding Fathers wisely refrained from defining “speech” and “press” in the First Amendment – generalities that have served the nation well through more than two centuries of technological change -- Florida would be justified in keeping open its options on what constitutes a school.

 

Scott Kent, who spent 30 years writing for Florida and Georgia newspapers, is the strategic communications manager for Step Up for Students. He can be reached at skent@sufs.org or (727) 451-9832. This opinion piece first was published Sept. 14 in redefinED


READ MORE FROM SUNSINE STATE NEWS

Six Reasons Conservatives Should Believe the Defeat of Amendment 8 Was Correct

Voters, Armed with Facts, Should Decide on Amendment 8

Comments

I oppose Amendment 8. The reasons why follow. 1. I am opposed to any law that puts more power in the hands of state or federal government. 2. I am opposed to any proposal, bill, or act that has a hidden agenda, is worded ambiguously, or has confusing legalese double speak. 3. Given current social and political environment I oppose any attempt to modernize, up-date, change, or alter a state or the federal constitution. 4. I am opposed to verbal manipulation tricks. In the second paragraph of the Effren article, the second sentence begins the attack, “Some well-meaning conservatives have been arguing that opposition to Amendment 8 was limited only to liberals” Oh the poor picked on liberals. Looking at three key phrases in that one sentence that I think are meant to degrade or manipulate. “Well-meaning” implies a person has good intentions, but falls short or is lacking in some way. Well-meaning can also imply a person (or a group) is ineffectual, is deluded, and is otherwise uninformed. “Arguing” is the second. It triggers thoughts of disgust, shames the well meaning, and feeds on the fear of being tagged as uniformed (having no basis for their argument or belief). Additionally, arguing evokes images of a hot-headed bully. Third is the phrase “These conservatives.” The word “these” strongly implies disgust as in “these disgusting conservatives.” To me, within the first four sentences, the article’s author has exposed the fact there is an even deeper hidden agenda in Amendment 8… is in addition to the three more obvious proposals that were attached. I think the three were deliberately places. If the proposal passed with any of the three intact, it would be a plus. They were written in to mask the true hidden agenda. “We found these three, good for us, now with them taken out the proposal passes.” The proposed agenda needs closer scrutiny, what are the liberals really trying to get passed into law?” Scott Kent, in his article, quotes Blaine Winship, “In another five years, who knows what the nomenclature will be.” That statement is so reminiscent of what was said about the ObamaCare bill, “We don’t know what it says, so let’s pass it (unread) so we can find out.” “Nomenclature?” What better way to sound intellectual than to use a big word? “Ohhh he is so smart, let’s pass his proposal.” What better way to throw a curve at people who know the word and its definition? Their brains stop a moment to think, “What did he mean?” One of the ways to manipulate or slip something past the censors is to use a malapropism followed immediately by the point you want to make and have it missed. I would like to know the next ten or so words after that malapropism, nomenclature.

The Charter's that are successful emphasize an education model over a business model. There are very, very few of those (Plato's, Basis, etc.) Most are for profit nightmares, and I've experienced it first hand. Never again. They should be regulated just like public schools. Until they are, you will keep getting this crap of closures and F's...

It is all smoke and mirrors. Charters do not have to take your child if they are low performing, public schools do not have that luxury. They have to educate all kids, even if the kids don't want to be educated, which is the bigger issue here. The best statement in this entire mess, “lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for corporate profiteering, financial mismanagement, fraud and criminal corruption.” There are several things that should NEVER be left to private industry and schools and public safety are two of them. There should never be any consideration for profit margin when it comes to kids and criminals, the stakes are just too high...

The writer acts like school choice options have been stymied. That is clearly not the case! Florida's Legislature bends over backwards to give students new options, including a ridiculous new program called the "Hope" Scholarship that gives parents/students the option of leaving the public schools with the financial support to attend a school or their choice - if the student claims they have been bullied - proven or not. I hear it now - "They looked at me! I'm scared! Show me the money! " or " He threw a spit ball at me! Show me the money! " or "I got hit by a ball and it hurt! Show me the money! !" Step Up For Students a Trojan Horse organization - it claims support for kids but benefits financially from every new choice option the legislature creates. Oh and by the way - check out how much they spend in lobbying fees and political contributions. In the last three years, Step Up for Students have employed three major lobbying firms and spent a significant amount of money on legislative fees and political contributions. The Supreme Court was right!

REMOVE the 'authority' FROM local School Boards, which ARE self-serving "political breeding grounds" for "special interest" created WASTE of TAXPAYER monies ! The "education process", from 'top to bottom' ONCE AGAIN finds itself in dire need of "CENTRALIZATION" to manage ALL ISSUES BURDENING and STRESSING "Education" in the existing "socialization experiment" atmosphere created by Liberals since the end of WWII.

that's becuase it is essentially verbal diarrhea...nosensical rambling with no coherent point...

Very difficult to understand your writing.

Probably because you are stupid

Certainly, that's a long-standing argument. Often, people living in certain school districts have higher taxes. You are most certainly entitled to your opinion; however, all citizens have a very really need for good education to support local economies and workforce. I think this is one of those taxes that is for the greater good. If only those with children paid for public education, we wouldn't have remotely adequate funding to support education. Retirement destination states, like Florida, would be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to a workforce to support our communities. While respecting your point of view (I truly do) I have to disagree. There are some things, taxes for education; roads, etc. that are simply part of the fabric of community. All of us have things we don't believe should pertain to us, but, again, we are part of our communities and there are sacrifices that come with that.

Maybe it has come time to re-think that social contract. I agree that taxes are necessary to maintain our roads and safety, yet some of these public schools have become nothing more than a circus. It's obvious that some so called students have no regard for teachers or the learning institutions they are forced into through mandatory education laws. With new expensive safety requirements such as body scanners to avoid some students from bringing guns into schools, perhaps it might be better to expel these students. We need to find a better ways to serve our communities.

This is a con job. There should be NO "for-profit" charter schools. Period. And, any and all "non-profit" charter schools should be wholly-controlled and regulated by the Board of Education in the respective county in which the school is located

There should have an amendment that removes the tax burden of the public schools from my property tax bill. Since I have no children in Florida attending school, nor do I plan to have any children in the rest of my lifetime.

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