Florida State Supreme Court Gives Choice Supporters a Victory

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 25, 2001

Washington, D.C. – The Institute for Justice applauded yesterday’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court declining to review last October’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. In that October ruling, the appellate court stated that public funds may be spent in private schools under certain circumstances, including through Florida’s A-Plus plan. The court emphatically rejected the arguments of teachers’ unions and other special interest groups, which had asserted that Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution forbade the use of public funds to aid students in private schools.

“This decision is a big win for education reform,” said Matthew Berry, a staff attorney at the Institute. “Through research, we already knew the opportunity scholarships were working to create improvements in schools through competition. With yesterday’s ruling we now feel more confident than ever that the choice program is also constitutional.”

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, more than 50 students in Pensacola are attending private schools through the program and more than 70 students are using the program to attend higher-performing public schools. Since the implementation of the opportunity scholarship program almost two years ago, the number of failing public schools in Florida has dropped from 78 to only four in response to the threat of competition.

The case will now head back to the Leon County Circuit Court, which will consider the unions’ other claims. Berry 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.”

The Institute is defending the constitutionality of the opportunity scholarship program on behalf of Pensacola families participating in the program. It is also defending choice programs in Ohio, Illinois and Arizona.