The Reconstruction Constitution of 1868 was the first of Florida’s institutions to declare that education was a “paramount” duty of the state. However, the Jim Crow-era Constitution of 1885 removed this language out of concern that it would foster the integrated education of Black and white Floridians.
In 1998, voters in Florida passed an amendment to the state constitution restoring language that it is “a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” This was a strong signal that Floridians valued a quality public school system for all students. However, the passage of this amendment raised important questions around what “adequate” meant and spurred litigation around funding adequacy.
Throughout Florida’s history, funding for public education has been persistently inadequate and has not met the needs of all of Florida’s students, especially students of color. The most significant of these court cases culminated in 2019, after a protracted lawsuit brought by some of the Constitutional Review Commissioners, including a former attorney general, a former Supreme Court Justice, and a former House speaker who had proposed the 1998 amendment. The case ended when the Florida Supreme Court deemed the issue non-justiciable, meaning that the court deemed the issue outside of its purview. Their reasoning was that funding is a policy decision to be left for the state Legislature. This meant that the only foreseeable steps forward to improve school funding adequacy and equity in Florida was through legislative advocacy.