Florida's Supreme Court voted on Friday to throw off the November general election ballot a controversial measure a lower court judge had said misled the public about its real purpose: to expand publicly funded charter schools in the state.
The justices voted 4-to-3 to keep Amendment 8 off the ballot, a move that traditional public education advocates applauded, including the League of Women Voters, which had filed the suit against the measure, with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The measure to change the Florida Constitution had three parts. One sought to add a mandate for civic education in the state constitution and another proposed setting a limit of two four-year terms for members of county school boards. The third part was the most controversial. It sought to allow the state government to create a statewide entity that could open and operate charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — even if local school districts opposed them.
Supporters of the charter amendment said it would allow more school choice for families. Opponents say the state's charter sector is ridden with scandal because oversight is poor and that traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of students, are being hurt by public funding for charter schools. They also say local control of education, which school choice proponents often espouse, would be violated by the amendment.
Last month, in Leon County, Judge John C. Cooper removed Amendment 8 from the ballot after saying its title and text were "misleading." Here's the title and summary, neither of which mentions charter schools:
SCHOOL BOARD TERM LIMITS AND DUTIES; PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.
Cooper said the title and text did not reveal to voters that the state would be allowed to open and operate charter schools in local districts without local approval.
State officials appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, which held a hearing this week and released the decision on Friday. It said simply that Cooper's ruling was affirmed and that the amendment was "stricken" from the November 2018 general election ballot.
Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said in a statement (which refers to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) that approved Amendment 8):
We commend the court for taking swift action to protect the integrity of the ballot by removing a proposal that was blatantly and intentionally misleading.
While all of the bundled proposals have the potential to be confusing, the backers of Amendment 8 took it 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.
This case once again illustrates the importance of fair and impartial courts to provide the necessary check against political overreach.