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Politics

Amending the Constitution Can Be a Tricky Business

October 15, 2012 - 6:00pm

Florida's left-wing community is up in arms, opposed to every amendment to the state Constitution that will be on the ballot in November.

The gist of their arguments is that the sacred document (we know how liberals revere constitutions) should not be cluttered with extraneous matter.

Roll the tape:

In 1998, liberals were excited, eager to jam into the state Constitution a provision concerning public schools.

This Trojan Horse rewrote language relating to school funding. As amended, the provision read:

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.

The original language was quite adequate and there was no reason for the change. Or was there?

Sure enough, the public school lobby filed suit to overturn Gov. Jeb Bush's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was helping thousands of children get a decent education.

The Supreme Court's liberal set went straight to the 1998 amendment and in 2006 found the law unconstitutional, claiming that it diverted money from the public schools.

There was a lot of blah-blah about the private schools not being uniform, as if the public schools are, and a demurrer that the court wasn't infringing on the Legislature's job of making policy, which it was.

No one seemed concerned about whether the public schools are fulfilling their requirement to allow students to obtain a high-quality education. If so, why do we have failing schools?

What the justices failed to grasp is that the public schools are paid to educate children. If the children don't go to a public school, the school doesn't get the money to educate them. That is not diverting.

In short, language most voters probably thought was window dressing was used by an activist court to make a major policy change. That's the danger of putting fluffy stuff into the Constitution that can be interpreted.

Tempting as it is to vote for all the proposed constitutional amendments on the basis that Florida liberals are opposed to them, I'll resist the temptation. Instead, I'll pick and choose.

Read the amendments carefully before voting. And when you vote on the separate issue of retaining Supreme Court justices, you might want to note, as a matter of interest, that all three justices on the ballot were among the majority in the decision that left poor children trapped in failing schools.

I wonder how many of those kids graduated from school and are employed today.


Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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