NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 12, 2006

For six years, students in Florida's failing public schools have been able to switch to a private school of their parents' choosing, using the state funds allocated for their education. They no longer have this option. The "Opportunity Scholarship" voucher program was struck down last Thursday by the state Supreme Court in a sweeping decision with national implications, says Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

Five of the seven presiding justices ruled that school vouchers violate the "uniformity" clause of Florida's constitution that mandates among other things, "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education."

But after more than a century of honing its public school system:

  • Florida has managed an on-time graduation rate of just 57 percent, placing it third from last nationally.
  • Florida's composite SAT score is the fourth lowest among the states.

And it isn't as though the rest of the country is excelling on the world stage, says Coulson:

  • When Americans took the International Adult Literacy Survey in the mid-1990s, nearly a quarter of 16-to-25-year-olds displayed only the most rudimentary skills.
  • In the decade since, the verbal ability of U.S. college graduates has declined, according to results released last month from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
  • On tests of mathematics and science, our high-school seniors are among the worst performers in the industrialized world.

It is to this millstone of educational dysfunction that Floridians -- and, to a lesser extent, the voters of every other state -- have tied their children, says Coulson. Yet, according to the court's decision, legislators may not consider alternative educational arrangements, no matter how effective they might be.

Source: Andrew Coulson, "War Against Vouchers," Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2006.

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