Florida Court Rejects School Vouchers, ACLU Hails Victory for Children

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 14, 2000 12:00 am

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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Ruling in a legal challenge to the nation’s first-ever statewide private and parochial school voucher program, a judge here said that it violates Florida’s constitutional guarantee of a free, high quality public education for all.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which together with other civil rights and public education advocates brought a legal challenge on behalf of Florida’s students and their parents, hailed the ruling as a victory for fairness, and called for real educational reforms to begin.

“It is now time for the legislature and the governor to go back to the drawing board to develop real education reforms, rather than relying on vouchers that are unconstitutional and damage the public school system on which most Florida families depend,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“While we fully expect the Governor to appeal, it would be better to focus on doing what’s best for Florida’s children rather than engaging in a protracted court battle in pursuit of an ideological crusade,” he added.

Simon said such reforms should include such proven strategies as reducing class size and shifting more resources to struggling schools typically found in low-income neighborhoods.

In the ruling issued today by Leon County Circuit Court Judge L. Ralph Smith, the court said that the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a portion of the Governor’s “A+ Plan for Education,” violates Article IX, Section 1, of the Florida Constitution.

That section provides that “adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education….” The law also requires the state to fulfill this constitutional mandate to provide for the education of all Florida children through free public schools.

The ACLU and other groups brought their lawsuit in June, 1999, arguing that Florida’s school voucher plan violates both the Florida Constitution and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case is Holmes v. Bush. The ACLU’s previous news releases, with links to its legal papers, can be found online at http://www.aclufl.org.

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