Duval School Board Members React To Judge's Throwing Education Amendment Off Ballot

Aug 20, 2018

Florida Circuit Judge John Cooper has ruled Amendment 8 - which deals with education - is  misleading and is throwing it off voters’ November ballots. 

The Duval County School Board had passed a resolution against Amendment 8, while lone Duval board member Scott Shine was advocating for it with the “8 is Great” campaign.

Amendment 8 is a three-part education measure that would impose eight-year term limits on school board members in all of the state’s 67 counties and require “the promotion of civic literacy” in public schools.

But the League of Women Voters sued over the third prong which would have allowed the state Legislature to designate or create a “state operator” to oversee and approve new public schools, including charters, without local school boards’ having a say. Currently the state constitution says only school boards have that power.

According the judge’s summary the ballot language is unclear because it doesn’t mention charter schools, saying it “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.”

Cooper also said the amendment fails to say who would undertake the responsibilities of establishing and operating the schools.

Duval board member Becki Couch, a vocal opponent of the amendment, said the judge’s ruling was the right call.

“The amendment didn’t clearly articulate what people would be voting on,” she said.

Her biggest issue with the amendment was a loss of local control, and “taxation without representation.” She said if the state appointed a body to approve charter schools that the new schools would pop up using tax dollars without any local oversight.

“For the board it was important that we take a position publicly so that if it did appear on the ballot there would at least be a public conversation about what this would do to the public school system throughout the state of Florida,” she said.

Shine, the only board member advocating for the amendment, said he didn’t find the ballot language misleading but he’s not surprised by the ruling.

“Those who had been participating in the case said that the judge seemed to have a hard time understanding the issues at play,” Shine said. ”We had a sense this judge was probably going to rule against us.”

But he said he’s not upset with the ruling as it’s “just another step in the process” of education reform. He said the ruling will “undoubtedly” be appealed.

“There’s a lot of different options,” Shine said. “One is that a higher court could rule in our favor. Two, at some point the ballot language could be changed so that’s it’s consistent with the law.”

Shine said his main reason for supporting Amendment 8 was the term limit requirement. Duval County has term limits and he said they’ve worked well.

He believes if the amendment were to make the ballot and pass that Duval County residents wouldn’t notice any change.

Photo used under Creative Commons.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.