[JURIST] The Florida Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday held that the state's 1999 school voucher law [text] violates the state constitutional requirement of a uniform system of free public schools. The Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) [state backgrounder], which was led by Gov. Jeb Bush [official website] and was the country's first statewide school voucher system, allows tax dollars to be spent on students in public school who receive failing grades for two out of four years to attend private or parochial schools on state vouchers. In the Court's 5-2 opinion [PDF text], per Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, the court held that the OSP violates the language under Article IX [text] of the Florida constitution [text] because:
It diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Floridas children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not "uniform" when compared with each other or the public system. Many standards imposed by law on the public schools are inapplicable to the private schools receiving public monies. In sum, through the OSP the state is fostering plural, nonuniform systems of education in direct violation of the constitutional mandate for a uniform system of free public schools.In November 2004, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal had ruled [JURIST report] that the law violates the state constitution ban on the use of tax dollars on religious schools. Currently, 700 children are attending private or parochial schools on the voucher program but 24,000 more attend such schools on similar programs not directly affected by Thursday's ruling. AP has more.