Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fla. High Court Invalidates School Vouchers Without Reaching Aid To Religion Issue

In Bush v. Holmes, decided today, the Florida Supreme Court struck down Florida's school voucher program on state constitutional grounds without reaching the question of whether the program violates Florida's Blaine amendment that prohibits any state financial aid to any religious denomination or sectarian institution. By a vote of 5-2, the Court held that Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program violates Article IX, Sec. 1(a) of the state's constitution. The opinion said:
The relevant words are these: "It is ... a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders." Using the same term, "adequate provision," article IX, section 1(a) further states: "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." ... [W]e find that the OSP violates this language. It diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not "uniform" when compared with each other or the public system. Many standards imposed by law on the public schools are inapplicable to the private schools receiving public monies. In sum, through the OSP the state is fostering plural, nonuniform systems of education in direct violation of the constitutional mandate for a uniform system of free public schools.
[Thanks to Anthony Picarello via Religionlaw for the information.]