Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Setback for School Vouchers in Florida

From yesterday's New York Times:
In a ruling expected to reverberate through battles over school choice in many states, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a voucher program yesterday for students attending failing schools, saying the State Constitution bars Florida from using taxpayer money to finance a private alternative to the public system.

The 5-to-2 ruling orders state officials to end, at the close of this school year, a program that Gov. Jeb Bush has considered one of his chief accomplishments.

Known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program, it uses public money to pay tuition for 730 students who have left failing public schools and enrolled in private schools.
Quoting from the opinion, the article continues:
In its ruling, the Florida court cited an article in the State Constitution that says, "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."

The Opportunity Scholarships Program "violates this language," the court said.

"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," the ruling said. "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."

Hard to argue with the reasoning there. The problem is in the language in the state Constitution. I am a graduate of the public schools in Palm Beach County, Florida. The notion that the system is "uniform," even within the same school district, is preposterous. Schools located in neighborhoods with higher income residents were better schools. And the disparities were not small. I do not see how the Court could uphold a challenge against the current system, even without vouchers.

I do not know the facts of this case, but I suspect that the 730 students in question went from schools where they couldn't get a good education to schools where they could. In the process of getting an education more like the typical student's, they violated this principle of uniformity. Fascinating.

Reform of the public system remains the priority. Over at a Constrained Vision, Katie Newmark lines it up just right: find some philanthropic organization to help get these kids into private schools and work to change the state constitution.

4 comments:

dearieme said...

Appalling decision: the US (with the possible exception of Louisiana) is meant to run on the principle that if it ain't forbidden, it's allowed. So that constitutional requirement concerning public schools has no bearing on the use of vouchers. I fear that the US is becoming a demonstration that the very idea of constitutional democracy is breaking down. How terribly sad.

Arun Khanna said...

I understand why society should fund and regulate education. I don't understand why that translates into government running educational institutions.
We need bold proposals that call for separating funding and managing of schools by government. All government schools should be privatized and then regulated to meet consistent nationwide standards.

Arun Khanna said...

I understand why society should fund and regulate education. I don't understand why that translates into government running educational institutions.
We need bold proposals that call for separating funding and managing of schools by government. All government schools should be privatized and then regulated to meet consistent nationwide standards.

barryg said...

You need to do a little research on the voucher program in Ocala, FL. Post just how much money was stolen from the taxpayers and diverted to a fundamentalist "school" that did not exist.