NAACP Files Brief Against “One Florida” Plan
By Pearl Stewart
T he Election 2000 fiasco had barely simmered down when Floridians were reminded of another battle being fought in the state’s courts — Gov. Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” plan.
In late December, the Florida NAACP filed a 58-page brief with the state appeals court in
Tallahassee aimed at halting implementation of the initiative, which went into effect in fall 2000. The civil rights organization’s challenge is essentially two-fold, explains NAACP attorney John Newton. It addresses the plan’s effect on graduate programs and it questions whether the board of regents and the governor had the authority to enact it.
On the first point, the brief contends that “One Florida” does far more than determine who gets into undergraduate school. “Its prohibitions are much broader,” says Newton, who filed the brief. “It also applies to graduate school, medical and law school, and this is something that the press has failed to make clear.”
The focus of “One Florida” has largely been on its ban of affirmative action in admissions and on its “Talented 20” provision, which guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of each high school graduating class, and adds $20 million to the state’s financial aid budget to support the initiative.
Newton says that because the plan applies not only to undergraduate schools but to graduate and professional programs as well, it will have a “much bigger impact on African Americans getting into law and medical schools.” The “Talented 20” provision applies only to undergraduate programs, so while affirmative action is also eliminated at the graduate level, “One Florida” does not replace it with anything.
Specifically, the brief argues that the board of regents (BOR) adopted the plan without adequately analyzing its impact overall and on graduate programs.
“The BOR did not conduct a systematic program-by-program university-by university analysis of the existence of discrimination. Nobody conducted any study of minority enrollment in limited access programs or the impact of the amendments on it. The limited analysis of minority enrollment in graduate programs showed only that the impact needed to be studied more,” the brief states.
There is “nothing equivalent to Talented 20 on the graduate level,” says Keith Goldschmidt, spokesman for the board of regents. But he adds, that is not necessarily a drawback because individual institutions are “sharing best practices, compiling a list of minority candidates and increasing recruitment efforts.”
The other major argument in the brief is that the board of regents does not have the authority as a part of the executive branch to make decisions that change the admission policies and that the legislature never gave the board that power.
The board voted unanimously last February to adopt the plan; the NAACP and a private citizen filed suit. An administrative law judge ruled in July against the NAACP and allowed the Bush plan to proceed. The Talented 20 component of the plan went into effect during the appeal. However, because it was so close to the beginning of the school year, it will not be fully implemented until the next academic year, according to Goldschmidt.
One member of the board,
attorney Steven Uhlfelder, told Black Issues that “according to our staff, there have been some
increases in African American
enrollment, there are no negatives, only positives as far as we can see,” (see Black Issues, Sept. 28).
Uhlfelder notes that all but two members of the 14-member board were appointed by the
previous governor, Democrat Lawton Chiles, and that the vote for the Bush plan was unanimous.
Opponents of the plan, particularly African Americans, have held protests and marches in
opposition to the initiative. They have especially expressed outrage that minority groups were not consulted in the planning stages. They have also objected to decisions having been made by the board of regents and governor without legislative approval.
But Uhlfelder suggests that the board “can do some fine-tuning to make improvements. If the legislature had passed it, it would be harder to make changes.”
Attorneys for the governor and board of regents have 50 days to respond to the challenge, after which the NAACP will be
allowed to reply.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com