Gelber wants McCollum to sue state over school funding

Oct 6, 2009

Miami Herald Naked Politics Blog

Offering a glimpse into what he would do if elected Attorney General, Sen. Dan Gelber this afternoon called on current attorney general Bill McCollum to challenge the Legislature in court over its education funding.

"Florida's education budget is constitutionally infirm, and if you look at our school system, you see that," said Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a father of three in public schools. "Look at our graduation rates, the violence in our schools. I see teachers asking for help to buy paper....I don't know who the Attorney General is supposed to stand up for, if not for children."

Gelber later said that if elected in 2010 to the office now held by McCollum, suing the Legislature over its education funding would be one of his first actions.

McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes had this response: "The attorney general believes that education is certainly a top priority that must be adequately funded. Before any judicial action can be pursued, it is incumbent on the Legislature to take action on a proposed budget and provide funding for Florida's educational system.

Gelber said the current per-student funding, $6,873, does not meet the constitutional requirement of an "adequate provision" for a "uniform, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allow students to obtain a high quality education." As proof, he cited the recent Board of Education meeting where members approved a 2010-11 budget request to the Legislature. It offers more per-student dollars --yet was still deemed inadequate by some BOE members.

Commissioner Roberto Martinez during the Sept. 15 meeting said the BOE budget proposal "inappropriately and inadequately funds education," and the BOE at Martinez's urging sent Education Commissioner Eric Smith and the Governor's Office a letter outlining those concerns. BOE member Kathleen Shanahan, former chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush and ally of Gov. Charlie Crist, voted no.

"The fact that the BOE has said 'we don't think this is adequate' should serve as a neon red light," Gelber said, during a press conference with Democratic Reps. Dwight Bullard and Martin Kiar outside McCollum's office.

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