In federalist parlance, the states often are called laboratories of democracy. Nowhere is this truer than in the field of education, and almost no subset of the education field lends itself to this label more than education finance. Since 1973, with very few notable exceptions, the entire development of the practice of education finance has proceeded through state-specific reforms. These reforms have occurred mostly through legislative policymaking, but the courts have played an important role in directing that policy development.
If one were to seek to observe one of these laboratories in action—to witness the interaction of the courts, the people, and the elected representatives of the people in the development of policy—one would be hard pressed to find a better state in which to do so than Florida. The state of Florida has had in place since the time of San Antonio v. Rodriguez an education finance system called the Florida Education Finance Plan (FEFP), which makes substantial effort to equalize per-pupil spending in all of the state's school districts while recognizing the local factors that may necessitate changes in that spending. Still, that system has been subject to state constitutional challenges.
This article outlines the two distinct avenues through which the FEFP and other Florida school funding statutes have been challenged. Each of these approaches involves the education article of the Florida Constitution. The first part traces the historical development of the education article, and the second part examines the early challenges that were based mostly on the uniformity provision of the education article and the initial failed effort to bring what many would call a third-wave challenge to the adequacy of education spending under the education article. The second part also examines the court's perception of its role in Florida's three-branch government and its willingness to fulfill that role in equity and adequacy cases. This article concludes that the unique referendum process through which Florida residents can amend their constitution adds a new dimension to the education finance reform process that shapes the arguments supporting litigation and ultimately may provide a new avenue through which reformers can seek their objectives with minimal court involvement.
Scott R. Bauries, Florida’s Past and Future Roles in Education Finance Reform Litigation, 32 J. Educ. Fin. 89 (2006).