The status of school choice in Florida is unclear. Unfortunately, in an unprecedented decision, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the
state’s groundbreaking Opportunity Scholarships voucher program for children in chronically failing public schools. The Court declared that the program violated the state constitution’s education article, specifically the requirement to provide a “uniform” public education. Contrary to state supreme courts in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Florida Court decided that the Legislature may not provide educational options beyond those in the public schools. Still, the Court limited its decision to Opportunity Scholarships only, leaving untouched Florida’s other school choice programs.
Earlier in the same case, a Florida appellate court struck down Opportunity Scholarships under the state’s Blaine Amendment. That ruling ran counter to years of Florida Supreme Court rulings on the Blaine Amendment permitting “incidental” benefits to religious organizations as the by-product of programs designed to advance the general welfare. The Florida Supreme Court did not review that issue, and the validity of the appellate court’s holding is unclear under Florida law.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding vouchers, tax credit programs are completely consistent with the Florida Constitution, even as interpreted by Holmes, because they involve private rather than public funds. As of press time, two cases unsuccessfully challenging the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program are currently on appeal at the Florida Court of Appeals.
Model Legislation: Education Savings Account, Great Schools Tax Credit Program, Family Education Tax Credit Program
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