Florida Court Strikes Down Private School Voucher Program

Florida's private school voucher program, the first statewide voucher plan passed in the United States, has been ruled unconstitutional by a state court.

State Judge L. Ralph Smith Jr. issued his ruling today, concluding that the voucher plan violates Article IX, Sec.1 of the Florida Constitution.

"Yet another court has struck a blow against a useless and unconstitutional voucher experiment," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which helped sponsor the lawsuit. "Sooner or later, voucher advocates will just have to give up."

In November 1998, 71 percent of Florida's voters approved a constitutional amendment declaring that the maintenance of an "efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools" is "a paramount duty of the state." Today's ruling in Holmes v. Bush was based on this constitutional provision.

"Florida's residents have made it clear that they want an efficient, well-funded public school system," Lynn said. "This voucher scheme undermined that goal, and Judge Smith was right to strike it down. I challenge the Florida Legislature to stop wasting its time on this unconstitutional boondoggle and concentrate on supporting the public schools."

Judge Smith ruled, "By providing state funds for some students to obtain a K-12 education through private schools, as an alternative to the high quality education available through the system of free public schools, the legislature has violated the mandate of the Florida Constitution, adopted by the electorate of this state."

Lynn added, "The language in the state constitution is clear and unambiguous. I don't understand how voucher supporters in Florida ever thought they would get away with this stunt in the first place."

Under the Florida plan, public schools received a grade, from A to F, based on standardized test scores. Schools that scored well got extra money from the state, but in schools that received an F, students were eligible for a $4,000 voucher at any private school that accepted them, including religious schools. Public schools lost the funds that students took to private schools.

Americans United is a Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty watchdog that has been involved in every school voucher controversy considered in U.S. courts. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.