Gelber Wants McCollum to Sue Gov. Crist, Legislature
State Sen. Dan Gelber is asking Attorney General Bill McCollum to sue the Legislature and governor for providing an inadequate level of school funding.
For Gelber, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, the move may provide a glimpse at what his agenda might be should he be elected next year to be the state’s top lawyer.
Gelber said at a news conference Tuesday that the state is failing to provide a high quality education to Florida's students.
And that, he said, is grounds for a lawsuit because of a section of the Florida constitution that says “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.”
Schools in Florida struggled as the economy sputtered last year and money became tight. Many school districts have had to lay off teachers and support personnel and cut programs.
However, the state, relying heavily on federal stimulus money, did actually increase per student funding for the 2009-2010 school year over the 2008-2009 school year from $6,844 to $6,873. It will likely largely depend on stimulus money for next year's budget as well, unless lawmakers develop a separate spending strategy.
The increase just wasn't enough, Gelber said, noting that the State Board of Education wanted a $7,397 per pupil budget..
“I see teachers asking parents for donations of paper,” he said.
Gelber, who faces state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, in the primary, said if he were attorney general, he’d file suit.
But McCollum, is unlikely to go along with Gelber's suggestion, unless he wants to openly criticize his own Republican Party for the budget it passed this past year.
A spokeswoman said McCollum, who is running for governor, believes education is a “top priority that must be adequately funded.”
“Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution imposes this responsibility solely on the Legislature, of which Sen. Gelber is a member,” McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes said in an email. “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.”