Florida School Choice

Holmes v. Bush
Institute for Justice and Parents Defend Florida’s Groundbreaking Statewide School Choice Program

In 1999, Florida passed the nation’s first statewide school choice program, Opportunity Scholarships, which enabled students to opt out of failing public schools and into better-performing public or private schools. The program has provided educational opportunities for hundreds of students while spurring real, measurable improvement in Florida’s most troubled public schools.

Nonetheless, one day after the program became law, teachers’ unions and other special interest groups challenged Opportunity Scholarships as a violation of the Florida and U.S. constitutions. IJ intervened to defend the program on behalf of families using school choice and the Urban League of Greater Miami, Inc.

After nearly seven years of litigation, the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 struck down Opportunity Scholarships as a violation of the state constitution’s “uniformity” clause, which requires the state to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” The court did not address the unions’ claim that the program violated the Florida Constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

Florida’s other school choice programs, including the nation’s largest tax-credit scholarship program and McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities continue to operate and expand.

Essential Background


Backgrounder for this case

Client Photo

Latest Release: Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down School Choice (January 5, 2006)

Client Video


Legal Briefs and Decisions

Launch Release: Historic Alliance Formed To Defend School Choice (June 18, 1999)

Ruling: Appellate Court Strikes Down School Choice (November 12, 2004)

Filing: IJ's Florida Supreme Court Opening Brief (January 18, 2005)

Filing: Gov. Bush and Florida Dept. of Education (January 18, 2005)

Filing: Florida Attorney General (January 18, 2005)

Amicus: Independent Voices for Better Education and Pacific Legal Foundation (January 24, 2005)

Amicus: Coalition of Minority and Education Advocates (January 25, 2005)

Amicus: Religious Liberty Experts and Organizations (January 25, 2005)

Amicus: U.S. Department of Justice (January 25, 2005)

Amicus: Florida Scholarship Families and Schools (January 25, 2005)

Amicus: Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (January 25, 2005)

Case Timeline

Lawsuit Filed:


June 22, 1999

Court Filed:


Circuit Court of 2nd Judicial Circuit, in and for Leon County



March 14, 2000: Trial court ruled that Opportunity Scholarships program violates the education guarantee of the Florida Constitution



October 3, 2000: 1st District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed trial court decision and upholds constitutionality of Opportunity Scholarships



April 24, 2001: Florida Supreme Court declined to review of First District Court of Appeal’s ruling in favor of the program; case returns to trial court for argument under the state and federal constitutions’ religion clauses



August 8, 2002: Judge Kevin Davey declared Opportunity Scholarships a violation of the Florida Constitution’s Blaine Amendment because some participating parents select religious schools



August 9, 2002: Judge Davey stayed his decision and allowed the program to continue and expand during appeal

August 16, 2004:  Three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal affirmed (by a 2-to-1 vote) trial judge’s decision

November 12, 2004: Full appellate court struck down school choice in 8-5-1 vote

January 5, 2006: Florida Supreme Court struck down school choice

Current Court:


Florida Supreme Court



Case completed

Additional Releases


Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Legal Showdown for School Choice: After Six-Year Legal Battle, Florida Supreme Court to Decide Fate of Nation’s First Statewide School Choice Program (May 11, 2005)

Chart: Enrollment in Florida Educational Choice Programs

Report: Competing to Win: How Florida's A+ Plan has Triggered Public School Reform

Release: In Reply Brief, Institute for Justice and Florida Parents Urge Florida Supreme Court to Save School Choice (March 21, 2005)


Release: Florida Families Join Education, Minority and Social Service Groups To File “Friend of the Court” Briefs Urging the Florida Supreme Court to Save School Choice (January 24, 2005)

Release: IJ and Florida Parents To File Opening Brief in Florida Supreme Court Defending School Choice (January 18, 2005)

Release: Florida Court of Appeal Strikes Down School Choice Program (November 12, 2004)

Release: Florida Court of Appeals Strikes Down School Choice Program in 2-1 Decision (August 16, 2004)

Release: Florida Judge Allows Expansion of School Choice; While Legal Battle Continues, 700 Students Freed From Failing Schools (August 9, 2002)

Release: Court Strikes Blow to School Choice in Florida; Decision Forces Hundreds of Students to Return to or Stay in Failing Schools (August 5, 2002)


Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Release: Florida Court of Appeals Disqualifies School Choice Judge (September 4, 2001)

Video: Where does the alphabet end?; (August 23, 2010)

Release: “Voucher Mom” Does Not Change Her Mind (June 11, 2001)

Op-Ed: Making Good on the Promise of Educational Opportunities, by Clint Bolick

Release: Judge With Family Ties to Teachers' Union Refuses to Disqualify Himself From School Choice Case (August 3, 2001)

Op-Ed: The ACLU vs. Parental Choice, by Matthew Berry

Release: Florida State Supreme Court Gives Choice Supporters a Victory (April 25, 2001)

Op-Ed: Vouchers Shouldn't Discriminate Based on Religion, by Eugene Volokh

Release: Two Reports, One Conclusion: School Choice Creating Reform in Florida (February 16, 2001)

Article: School Choice Showdown at the Florida Supreme Court, Liberty & Law (August 2005)


Article: Florida Rallies Behind School Choice; Liberty & Law (April 2005)

Release: Florida Appeals Court Upholds Constitutionality Of Nation's First Statewide School Choice Plan 3-0 (October 3, 2000)

Article: Florida Choice Fight Continues (October 2004)

Article: Litigation Update: Florida School Choice; Liberty & Law (March 2002)

Article: Florida: The Kids Win a Big One; Liberty & Law (November 2000)

Release: Groundbreaking Report Shows Competition From School Choice Sparks Widespread Public School Reform (April 24, 2000)

Article: Vouchers can make a difference for kids with special needs (August 16, 2000)

Release: Parents Gear Up For Crucial School Choice Court Hearing (February 22, 2000)

Article: Chicken Littles of School Choice Were Wrong (July 17, 2000)

Release: Lawyers Representing Opportunity Scholarship Parents Deride ACLU/NAACP Legal Challenge (June 22, 1999)

Article: As Summer Heats Up, School Choice Sizzles; Liberty & Law (June 2000)

Article: Failing Schools Say ‘A+ Plan Prompts Reforms’ (April 24, 2000)

Article: A mom’s view of school choice (December 2, 1999)


Article: The ACLU’s Hypocrisy on School Vouchers (August 2, 1999)

Op-Ed: Miami Herald Proclaims "Vouchers' Day in Court Erase the Doubt" (June 24, 1999)

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