Florida has been fighting a legal battle against a variety of plaintiffs who say the state’s education funding system discriminates against poor and minority students.
A Leon County, Florida judge tossed the lawsuit, handing at least a temporary victory to the state, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
Undaunted by the setback, the education equality advocates and parents plan to appeal the ruling, which the newspaper said could lead to a landmark state Supreme Court ruling on education equality.
According to Education Week, the plaintiffs filed their initial lawsuit in 2009. The parents and education equality advocates pointed to disparities in education funding as a major cause of the achievement gap between more affluent White students and low-income and students of color.
The plaintiffs argued that the funding disparity violates a 1998 Florida Constitution amendment that requires the state to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.”
Additionally, the lawsuit challenges standardized testing, private school vouchers, and charter schools, Education Week reported.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Circuit Judge George Reynolds expressed some concern for the achievement gap, but ultimately ruled that state lawmakers are not at fault. He was also unpersuaded that increasing state funding would fix the problem.
In his 29-page opinion, Reynolds stated, via the Tallahassee Democrat:
“The weight of the evidence shows that the state has made education a top priority both in terms of implementation of research-based education policies and reforms, as well as education funding.”
Politico said Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner praised the decision as affirmation of the Republican-led legislature’s policies and funding levels.
“Today’s ruling validates the Legislature’s policy choices on education, which have dramatically improved student performance over the past 15 years and vaulted Florida to the top tier nationwide,” Gardiner said in a statement.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Fund Education Now co-founder Kathleen Oropeza, whose organization is a litigant in the lawsuit, said, “We’re in this as long as children continue to be harmed by Florida’s school reform policies. And we’ve always known, regardless of the outcome, there would be an appeal.”
Reynolds’ ruling has not discouraged the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, the newspaper reported. In a separate lawsuit, the union is challenging the state’s tax credit voucher program.
A spokesman for the union told the Tallahassee Democrat that the organization plans to continue its appeal, which Reynolds dismissed last year.