Education: Don’t Take the Bait on Amendment 8

While the League of Women Voters wholeheartedly supports civic education, it recommends a NO vote on Amendment 8.

Civics education in our schools has been expanding – even though the state Constitution doesn’t require it. Since 2011, Florida statute has required middle school students to enroll in at least one semester of civics, accompanied by a state end-of-course assessment. In fact, every county in Florida offers a yearlong course, usually in the seventh grade.

Teachers are engaged in rigorous professional development. Pinellas County Schools’ scores equal or exceed the state average, and they continue to improve. In addition, every student is required to enroll in two years of United States history and one semester of United States government. The importance of civics literacy has been upheld at the state and local levels.

So, if no one seems to be opposed to civics literacy, why is it in Amendment 8? It was included to improve the likelihood of passage for the amendment’s other two issues: term limits for school board members and the removal of local control of charter schools.

Term limits, in the most fundamental way, have always been in the hands of the voters, who can vote for or against any candidate in any election.

So, with two of the three issues bundled into Amendment 8 deemed unnecessary, we are left with the “bitter pill” of the third: the removal of charter school authorization and oversight from locally elected school boards.

Under the new language, the Legislature or governor could create an unelected commission to authorize schools without regard to local needs. The Legislature tried to create such a state-wide charter authorizer before, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2008 it was unconstitutional. Putting this new language in the constitution would remove the barrier.

There you have it. Civics education and school board term limits are being used to divert attention from the real “game changer” in Amendment 8. But our civic lessons taught us the importance of a locally controlled public education system for all students. As Thomas Jefferson argued in 1779, “No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”