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Fla. Court Deals Blow To Initiative Campaign on Education Funding

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Florida's highest court has dealt a blow to the campaign for a state constitutional amendment that would force lawmakers to spend more money on public schools.

The initiative, sponsored by the Tallahassee-based Coalition to Reclaim Education's Share, would have required at least 40 percent of the state budget--excluding lottery funds--to be spent on public education.

Its backers had hoped to put the measure before Florida voters next November. They say they still would like to get something on the ballot, but the original measure will have to change to pass court muster.

Technical Flaw

In a 6-1 ruling Nov. 20, the state supreme court ruled that the far-reaching effects of the proposed amendment would violate a requirement that citizens' initiatives to amend the state constitution deal only with a single subject.

"[T]his amendment would substantially alter the legislature's present discretion in making value choices as to appropriations among the various vital functions of state government, including not only education but also civil and criminal justice; public health, safety, and welfare; transportation; disaster relief, agricultural and environmental regulation; and the remaining array of state and governmental services," the majority opinion said.

Looking Ahead

Teachers' unions, school administrator groups, and parent organizations, as well as other advocacy groups, had already collected more than 417,000 of the 435,073 signatures required to put the initiative on the November 1998 ballot, according to the coalition's spokeswoman, Lynda Russell. The justices' ruling last month invalidates those signatures.

The coalition, while disappointed, will fight on, she said. "This issue is far too important to too many people to put aside," Ms. Russell said. She said the group may redraft the amendment.

And it is possible, she said, that the Constitution Revision Commission, a group appointed by lawmakers that is meeting this year, will consider the amendment.

The share of the state budget devoted to Florida public schools--K-12, community colleges, and state universities--has declined from 40 percent in 1986 to less than 35 percent in 1996, according to the coalition.

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