, 2000

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JUNE 21, 1999  1:12 PM
People for the American Way
Nancy Coleman 202/467-4999
Bush’s Signature on Florida Voucher Bill Paves Way for Constitutional Showdown
WASHINGTON - June 21 - Gov. Jeb Bush’s signature Monday on a controversial statewide voucher bill will further inflame a legal and ideological battle pitting the needs of public schoolchildren against voucher supporters’ desire to secure public funding for private schools, People For the American Way Foundation said today.

"Before the ink is dry, we will go to court in Florida to uphold the Florida and U.S. constitutional bans on funding religious schools with tax dollars," said PFAWF President Carole Shields, a Miami resident.

The Florida Constitution clearly states, "[N]o revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

In the past two months, a federal appellate court and two state supreme courts have held tuition subsidies for religious schools to be unconstitutional. In May, the First Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the First Amendment, ruled that it would be unconstitutional for a state to use public funds to pay tuition at religious schools. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court reached the same conclusion in a parallel case in April, as did the Vermont Supreme Court earlier this month (in a decision relying on the state constitution). In addition, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down a voucher program in late May, while leaving open the possibility that it could be re-enacted.

"The pro-voucher forces are on a collision course with state constitutions and with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," Shields said. "The sad thing about this is that it diverts our time, energy and brainpower from remedies that really improve public education. These include smaller class sizes, better-trained teachers, stronger preschool programs. In many states, the opportunity for meaningful school reform is being sacrificed at the altar of vouchers."

Supporters of public education oppose vouchers because they divert critically needed public funds to private and religious schools while doing nothing to strengthen the cash-starved public schools that most children depend on for their chance in life. Bush’s voucher bill offers no accountability or means for parents who send their children to private schools to measure how those schools are doing. Religious and other private schools that will be eligible for the program will not be subject to performance assessments – as public schools are – and would not otherwise be accountable to parents.


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