Advocates for the new amendment assert that Florida's educational scores have risen and that its achievement gap has improved, and they attribute that improvement to the adoption of an amendment to Florida's constitution, which they then claim will lead to similar improvements here in Minnesota if we adopt the amendment that they propose. Hold on! We don't pretend to be an expert in Florida's education system or its constitution. On the surface, however, one is suspicious that the advocates are not being altogether straight in the differences between Florida's constitution and the clause that they are offering here in Minnesota. Here are some things we need to scrutinize if the new Minnesota proposal is going to get serious consideration:
(1) The proposed Minnesota amendment does not bring with it from Florida some of the main features of Florida's education clause. Why did the Minnesota proponent's leave those provisions behind? In 2002, citizens approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution that set limits on the number of students in core classes (Math, English, Science, etc.) in the state's public schools. Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, the maximum number of students in each core class would be 18 students in prekindergarten through grade 3;22 students in grades 4 through 8; and25 students in grades 9 through 12. Since 2003, Florida has allocated a total of $43 billion dollars to class size compliance, some for hiring more teachers, and some for adding new facilities because reducing class size requires more classrooms.
Although advocates for the new Minnesota amendment claim that they are bringing the benefits of the Florida constitution here, they are leaving in Florida the class size protections? Why is that? And, why are they so certain that it wasn't the class size provision that accounts for the improvements that they assign instead to the other Florida provision.
(2) The Florida amendment that they are borrowing from (without the class size protection) begins as follows:
(a)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 and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require
(3) The proposed Minnesota version would be somewhat different. It would read:
All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.High quality is changed to quality. System of free public schools is changed to public schools. Uniform efficient safe and secure is expunged from the language. "Adequate provision shall be made" is removed. Class size protections is gone; the high is removed from quality; "adequate provision is removed. Uniform, efficient, safe and secure is gone. Indeed, how can anyone possibly argue that we are getting Florida's constitution?
(4) These word changes make a difference Under the Florida version, the State of Florida introduced a voucher system called the Opportunity Scholarship system designed to allow children to port their public support out of a public school and use them in private schools. In the 2006 case, Bush v Holmes, the Florida Supreme Court held that the words uniform and free prohibited the state from funding private schools. The advocates for the Minnesota version have altered the Florida language by eliminating those words. Clearly, the intent is to eliminate provisions that demand adequate state funding, but assure that the new amendment is a vehicle for state support for private schools.
(5) In the last decade many advocates have come to believe that even under the new Florida Constitution, the state is failing to make necessary investments in public education. In January of 2019, the Florida Supreme Court finally decided the "Citizens for Strong Schools" case holding that the Florida "paramount duty" language did not impose an enforceable duty on the State. Under the Florida language, which is more powerful that proposed for Minnesota, the Supreme Court has held that the legislature has discretion to spend what it wants to spend on Florida schools.
It does seem that the amendment we are being asked to consider primarily eviscerates the constitutional rights that we now have in Minnesota, in return for a clause designed to allow students to opt-out of public schools and port their money to private schools. Is there anyone out there who can talk me down from the ledge on this one?