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FLORIDA'S INEQUITABLE PUBLIC SCHOOL FUNDING SPARKS LEGAL CHALLENGE
September 27, 2012

In September 2012, the Florida Supreme Court denied the State's effort to dismiss Citizens for Strong Schools (CSS) v. Haridopolos, clearing the way for a major challenge to unequal school funding in Florida to move to trial.

The backdrop for this case is the deep inequity in Florida's system of funding public education. Florida is one of three states ranked at the bottom of the nation on school funding fairness, according to "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card."

The recently released 2nd Edition of the National Report Card evaluates states on four indicators of fairness -- funding level, funding distribution, fiscal effort, and "coverage."

Florida rates abysmally on all four, and the situation is deteriorating, not improving.

The Report Card finds that Florida has among the lowest per pupil funding levels in the country, its ranking falling precipitously from 22nd lowest in 2007 and 2008 to 40th in 2009. Between 2008 and 2009, funding declined by an average of over $1,200 per pupil across the state.

Florida also receives a "D" on the critical measure of funding distribution. Low wealth, high poverty districts in the Sunshine State receive only 90% of the funding level of more affluent, low poverty districts. This makes Florida's funding system "regressive" because it fails to account for the additional costs needed to give low-wealth students, and students in high poverty schools, the resources required to achieve rigorous academic standards.

Florida is also not making the investments needed to support high quality public schools. On the Report Card, the State dropped from a mediocre "C" on fiscal effort to an "F" by reducing the proportion of the state's economic capacity that it spends on education.

86% of school-aged children in Florida attend public schools, and those who don't are significantly wealthier -- with average household incomes that are nearly twice that of public school students. This "coverage" means that the significant number of more affluent families not using the public schools have less direct stake in making sure those schools are funded to support a high quality education for all.

The 2012 edition of the National Report Card, coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC), and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC, analyzes the "fairness" of school funding in all 50 states.

First issued in 2010, this report is based on the principle that stable and equitable state systems of school finance are an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education and of critical importance to efforts to close persistent achievement gaps among the nation's low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The pending case, CSS v. Florida State Board of Education, was filed in 2009 and alleges that the State is violating the Florida constitutional mandate to make "adequate provision for education" because the State funding system is underfunded and relies too heavily on local property and other taxes.

The lawsuit also alleges that the funding system violates the Constitution's provision requiring a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality of education." The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the State to establish a remedial plan to fix Florida's broken funding system.

Related Stories:
Illinois School Funding among Nation's Worst
Pennsylvania Retreats from Fair School Funding
New York School Funding among Nation's Most Unfair
The Garden State: A Beacon of Educational Equity in the Region
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
www.edlawcenter.org
www.educationjustice.org


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