A three-judge panel of Florida’s First District Court of Appeals last month affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the complaint. Citizens for Strong Schools v. State. The essence of the Court’s decision was that:
the State’s duty to make adequate provision for an efficient and high quality education raise[s] political questions not subject to judicial review, because the relevant constitutional text does not contain judicially discoverable standards by which a court can decide whether the State has complied with organic law. Furthermore, the strict separation of powers embedded in Florida’s organic law requires judicial deference to the legislative and executive branches to adopt and execute educational policies those branches deem necessary and appropriate to enable students to obtain a “high quality” education, as directed by the Florida Constitution.
After losing a prior adequacy case, education advocates in Florida had turned to the state’s initiative and referendum process. Voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in the November 1998 election and dramatically strengthened the education clause. The new language makes Florida’s education clause one of the most strongly worded in the nation. It reads that:
The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education…
The appeals court, however, agreed with the trial judge that “the terms ‘efficient’ and ‘high quality’ are no more susceptible to judicial interpretation than ‘adequate’ was under the prior version of the education provision, and to define these terms would require ‘an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion.’
Judge Wolf filed a concurring opinion in which he noted that in a previous case he had stated that the plaintiffs may have a cause of action to require the Legislature to implement the constitutional provision at issue by adopting reasonable measurable standards to gauge compliance, but, he stated, plaintiffs here choose not to pursue that route.
Plaintiffs have indicated that they intend to file promptly an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.