Washington, D.C. – The Institute for Justice applauded today’s ruling by the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida, upholding the constitutionality of the state’s groundbreaking opportunity scholarship program. The unanimous opinion issued by a three-judge panel reversed the trial court’s March decision that the program violated Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution.
“The kids won a big one today,” said Clint Bolick, the Institute’s vice president and director of litigation.
In its ruling, the appellate court emphatically rejected the arguments of teachers’ unions and other special interest groups, which had asserted that Article IX, Section 1 forbade the use of public funds to aid students in private schools. The court stated, “[N]othing in [the Constitution] clearly prohibits the Legislature from allowing the well-delineated use of public funds for private school education, particularly in circumstances where the Legislature finds such use is necessary.” The Court added that the Constitution “does not unalterably hitch the requirement to make adequate provision for education to a single, specified engine, that being the public school system.”
Florida’s opportunity scholarship program gives students assigned to failing public schools the additional options of attending a higher-performing public school or private school at public expense. Currently, over 50 students in Pensacola are attending private schools through the program and over 70 students are using the program to attend higher-performing public schools.
“The opportunity scholarship program advances the constitutional goal that every Florida child should receive a high-quality education, no matter where that education is provided,” commented Bolick.
The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to address the other claims raised by the teachers’ unions. Matthew Berry, a staff attorney at the Institute, stated, “Now that the court has disposed of this meritless claim, we look forward to litigating the teachers’ unions’ other claims, which we are confident will be found equally lacking.”