The bells of victory are ringing throughout Florida with the Florida Supreme Court decision to throw out the state’s voucher system that allows some children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense, saying Thursday that it violates the state constitution’s requirement of a uniform system of free public schools.
The 5-2 opinion struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program, championed by Gov. Jeb Bush, effective at the end of the current school year. It was the nation’s first statewide system of school vouchers in 1999.
About 700 children across Florida are using the program to attend a private or parochial school after transferring from public schools the state deems failing. It is part of a broader accountability program Bush instigated as one of his top priorities, including testing at virtually every level and a school grading system that offers performance-based rewards and punishments.
Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, said the program “diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools,” which are the sole means set out in the state constitution for educating Florida children.