Sunday, November 08, 2009

Florida Officials Fail to Provide Quality Education, Suit Claims

Published: November 5, 2009

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing state officials in Florida of failing to ensure that students in Palm Beach County receive a high quality education, as evidenced by their poor graduation rates.

The state court suit, filed in West Palm Beach, names Gov. Charlie Crist, the Board of Education and several political leaders and asserts that they are violating a requirement in the Florida Constitution to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality” education.

“Palm Beach County is clearly not upholding its responsibility to provide a quality education to all of its students when so many of them are not graduating,” Chris Hansen, senior staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U., said Thursday in a statement.

Mr. Hansen added that the issues in Palm Beach County reflected a national problem.

A spokesman for Mr. Crist, a Republican, did not have immediate comment.

Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County School District, said graduation rates had increased to 80 percent as a result of specific initiatives.

“We know we still have work today, and are focused on getting that work done,” said Mr. Harrington, who said he had not seen the lawsuit.

The suit contends that one-third to one-half of the county’s students do not graduate on time with a regular diploma, well below state and national averages, and that graduation rates varied from 56 percent to 71 percent in 2006, depending on the method used to calculate them.

The A.C.L.U. also highlighted the disparities among black, Hispanic and white student graduation rates. The gap between black and white graduation rates was 30 percentage points over the past five years, the organization stated, and 20 points between Hispanic and white students.

“All students, regardless of their age, race, special needs, ethnicity or gender, deserve an environment that breeds success, not failure,” Muslima Lewis, director of the Racial Justice Project at the A.C.L.U. of Florida, said in a statement.

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