NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 6, 2006

When the Florida Supreme Court declared the statewide school voucher program unconstitutional Thursday, the justices in the majority claimed their decision "does not deny parents recourse to either public or private school alternatives to a failing school."

But that's exactly what the decision does, says the Tampa Tribune. Vouchers have allowed low-income parents to choose schools that best meet their children's needs. Without the program, parents who want to get their children out of schools that are failing their kids but can't afford the tuition are out of luck; their children will suffer.

According to the Tribune:

  • The court's decision is disappointing because justices simply injected themselves into a policy dispute, and their manufactured rationale reflects the politics of the situation.
  • The court chose to avoid addressing the First Amendment challenge to the program, which was the basis for lower court decisions; in those cases judges ruled the voucher program unconstitutional because most parents use the vouchers to pay tuition to religious schools.
  • Instead, the high court said the program violates the Florida constitution's requirement of a uniform system of free public schools; by avoiding the religious issue, they have insulated the decision from review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, said the state cannot legally divert public money from public schools. She wrote that because private schools do not have to meet the same standards as public schools, they are not uniform. But not all of Florida's public schools are "uniform." If they were, none would be failing.

Gov. Jeb Bush called the decision "a sad day for accountability" in the state. Unfortunately, he is right, says the Tribune.

Source: Editorial, "A Disappointing Voucher Ruling," Tampa Tribune, January 6, 2005.


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