Voters to get say on education changes

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Monday signed off on a proposed constitutional amendment that could lead to term limits for county school-board members and make a revision that one critic called a “game changer” for charter schools.

The commission voted 27-10 to put the proposed education amendment (Proposal 6003) on the Nov. 6 ballot. It was one of a series of ballot proposals --- ranging from issues dealing with oil drilling to victims’ rights --- that the commission considered during a day-long debate.

The education proposal, if approved by 60 percent of voters in November, would impose eight-year term limits on school-board members. That would make school boards similar to the Legislature and state Cabinet, where members are generally limited to eight years.

The proposed constitutional amendment also would direct the Legislature to put in law efforts to promote civic literacy in schools.

But while the term-limits and civic-literacy issues drew little discussion Monday, another part of the proposed constitutional amendment related to school governance spurred controversy.Under current law, school boards operate and control public schools within their counties. But the proposed constitutional amendment could lead to the state having control over public schools that would not be established by school boards.

Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a Coral Gables attorney and former member of the State Board of Education, said the proposal is designed to create a state process to oversee charter schools. That would come after years of clashes between some county school boards and charter-school operators about whether charter schools should be allowed to open. Charter schools are public schools that are typically run by private organizations.

“It (the proposal) is a big deal,” said Martinez, who voted against the proposal. “It’s a game changer.”

But Commissioner Patricia Levesque, who is a top official with two education-advocacy organizations founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, said the proposal is not only about charter schools. She said it also could help lead to more university lab schools or collegiate high schools at state colleges.

Levesque said the current system was set up in the state’s 1968 Constitution and that the Legislature could be “very innovative” with changes.“

Right now, we have a governance model that was built 50 years ago,” said Levesque, CEO of the non-profit Foundation for Excellence in Education and executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Martinez and other critics sought unsuccessfully to break apart the proposed constitutional amendment and take up the issues separately. In part, they said voters should be able to consider each of the issues rather than taking an up-or-down vote on the bundle.

“They are not related sufficiently to stay bundled, in my opinion,” said Commissioner Bill Schifino, a Tampa lawyer who is a former president of The Florida Bar.

But Levesque said all three issues deal with kindergarten through 12th-grade education and part of the Constitution that governs education.“

Absolutely, these issues are related,” she said.


Information provided by The News Service of Florida.