Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Choice

February 1, 2006

February 2006

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Choice

By Clark Neily

Turning its back on thousands of low-income Florida schoolchildren, on January 5 the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program on the grounds that it violates Florida’s constitutional obligation to establish a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” Even as it dismantled the nation’s first statewide voucher program, the Court disingenuously claimed it was not questioning the basic right of parents to educate their children as they see fit or seek alternatives to failing public schools—it was simply saying the State could not help them do so. Translation: All people in Florida have a right to send their children to high-quality schools, except poor people.

The two dissenting justices demolished the majority’s “analysis,” documenting the history of the so-called “uniformity clause” and establishing beyond question that it was never intended to prevent the State from improving public schools by exposing them to competition instead of complacency.

The Court noted that its decision had no impact on Florida’s much larger school choice programs—McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities and Corporate Tax Credit scholarships for low-income students—which have not been challenged in court . . . yet.

The Institute for Justice is working with Governor Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates to expand those remaining programs to include Opportunity Scholarship students and to strengthen them against possible future court challenges by enemies of choice.

Despite this setback, two things remain certain: school choice lives in Florida and the fight for equal educational opportunity will go on. Clark Neily is an IJ senior attorney.

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