A Tallahassee judge heard opening arguments this morning in a month-long civil trial that could up-end Florida's entire education system.
Attorneys representing Citizens for Strong Schools want Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III to declare that the Florida Department of Education -- and by extension, the Florida Legislature -- has failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated "paramount duty" to provide a "high quality" education for all public school students.
A constitutional amendment in 1998 requires the state to make "adequate provision(s) ... for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools."
Attorneys for the advocacy group argue the state hasn't done that, citing -- among other complaints -- the lack of parity in student achievement for minority students in Florida public schools.
But attorneys for the Department of Education and the Legislature counter that, while there's still more work to be done, Florida's education system has come a long way in the past 20 years.
The two sides started laying out their arguments today in the non-jury trial, which is expected to last five weeks and include expert witnesses such as current Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.
In lambasting Florida's education system, the plaintiff's lead attorney Neil Chonin decried Florida's controversial and high-stakes "accountability" framework, which includes using the results of students' standardized exams to, in part, determine student retention, teacher evaluations and school grades.