TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for a voting-rights group asked a judge Friday to remove a proposed constitutional amendment that could expand charter schools in Florida from the November ballot, arguing the measure is misleading.
Ronald Meyer, a lawyer representing the Florida League of Women Voters, likened Amendment 8, which combines three separate education proposals into one ballot measure, to “putting sparkly things around a pile of mud so that you can distract the voters’ attention.”
Meyer said the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place amendments directly on the ballot, did not fully explain the charter school provision, while combining it with clearer proposals on term limits for school board members and civic literacy.
“They take these two disjunctive things to distract you from the unintelligible part in the middle,” Meyer told Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper.
Meyer said the ballot title and summary are “misleading” and “deceptive” because they do not explain that approval of the amendment will remove the local school boards’ authority to oversee charter schools, which are public schools but operate more independently than traditional schools.
But Blaine Winship, a lawyer representing the state, said the ballot title and summary are “a fair statement” of the proposed amendment.
“The voters have a right to see this,” Winship said. “It’s clear. There’s nothing misleading about it. … This lets them know the major ramification without going through every conceivable one, as we discussed, which is not even possible to do.”
Winship acknowledged Amendment 8 is aimed at overturning a 2008 appellate court decision involving Duval County that found the Legislature’s creation of a statewide commission to authorize charter schools was unconstitutional. The court said it infringed on the constitutional right of school boards to oversee and operate all public schools in their counties.
“All this amendment is doing is taking away a monopoly power,” Winship said. “This is just basically going to overturn that (ruling).”
Meyer, however, described charter schools as “private schools funded with public tax dollars.”
“It’s not enough that they have legislatively been able to get at the money. Now they (charter schools) want to be stripped of any control by the elected school board that has to tax you and me to pay for them,” Meyer told Cooper. “None of this is disclosed anywhere in this ballot summary and that is what this is about.”
Amendment 8 combined three different education issues into one ballot measure. It would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members. It would require “civic literacy” to be promoted in public schools. And it would allow charter schools and other public education initiatives to be authorized by the Legislature or other entities, instead of exclusively by local school boards.
The proposed amendment is also being challenged in a case filed directly with the Florida Supreme Court. That lawsuit asks the state’s highest court to remove six amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, arguing the panel overstepped its authority by combining multiple proposals into single ballot measures.
Meyer said if the Supreme Court challenge is successful, it would “moot” the lawsuit now before the Leon County circuit court.
Cooper said he expects to have a decision in the case by Monday.
There are 13 proposed state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot, including eight approved by the CRC and five approved by the Legislature or through the petition process. Seven of the CRC amendments are being challenged in court. Like all constitutional changes, each amendment requires approval from 60 percent of the voters in order to be enacted.