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
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.