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Published in Print: January 20, 1999, as Fla. Sued Over Educational Adequacy

Fla. Sued Over Educational Adequacy

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A group of civil rights organizations is suing the state of Florida on behalf of thousands of schoolchildren they say are failing to receive an adequate education.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 4 by a coalition that includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens, is the latest in a string of cases against such states as Alabama, North Carolina, and Ohio over the issue of educational adequacy.

In a new twist, though, the Florida suit focuses less on school finance and more on educational resources and results, said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

The litigation focuses particularly on schools with a high percentage of poor and minority youngsters, said John M. Ratliff, one of the lawyers representing the Florida coalition. The plaintiffs are seeking improvements in educational outcomes, not simply an increase in state spending on education.

"It's not just a matter of money," Mr. Ratliff said, while acknowledging that money would likely be one part of a workable solution. "We want to see the outcomes change."

Gov. Jeb Bush, the state's new Republican chief executive, has declined to comment until his lawyers finish reviewing the suit, a spokesman said.

Constitutional Change

This past Election Day, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that expanded the state's obligation for providing students with an "adequate" education to one requiring "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality" public schools.

The recent lawsuit was filed just before the new constitutional standard went into effect. The state is failing to provide many students with an "adequate" education under the old provision, much less meet the revised constitutional standard, Mr. Ratliff contended.

The new provision would, however, be factored into any remedy the plaintiffs seek.

As more states have accountability systems in place with assessments that measure how well students meet state expectations, "we may see more lawsuits along these lines--more focused on performance and results," Ms. Fulton said.

Vol. 18, Issue 19, Page 16

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