Florida Voucher Proposal Narrowly Derailed In Legislature

Despite heavy pressure by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida lawmakers have defeated a proposal to help rescue a school voucher program that the state Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

In early May, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 23-16 for a pro-voucher constitutional amendment, but the tally fell short of the 24 votes needed. The measure would have exempted the voucher scheme from state constitutional provisions that ban public money for religious education and require a uniform system of free public education.

In January, Florida’s highest court invalidated the voucher plan, a major part of Gov. Bush’s education agenda, saying that it ran afoul of the state constitution. Americans United co-sponsored the Bush v. Holmes lawsuit along with allies in the public education and civil liberties communities.

In response, Bush began applying pressure on lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment to save the voucher plan. Even following the defeat in the Senate, the governor, according to press reports attempted to get certain state senators to change their vote. African-American Democratic state senators accused Bush of trying to get them to switch their votes. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that voucher supporters sent black children to the capitol to “cajole” the lawmakers to support Bush’s effort.

State Sen. Larcenia Bullard (D-Miami) called the tactic “demeaning.”