MIAMI — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the nation’s first statewide school voucher program, ruling that it violated the state’s constitution by robbing public schools of resources.
Though Florida’s Constitution explicitly provides for “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public education,” the voucher program enacted under Gov. Jeb Bush “diverts public dollars into separate private systems,” Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente wrote in the 5-2 ruling.
The justices’ decision was seized upon by opponents of vouchers as a precedent of national import on the controversial issue, but discounted by proponents, who said its impact would be limited.
Known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the Florida vouchers have been offered since 1999. About 700 schoolchildren across Florida receive the vouchers, which allow them to attend private or religious schools if their public school is classified as “failing” by the state. Two other voucher programs involving far more Florida children were untouched by Thursday’s ruling.
The court ruled that in addition to undermining the public-school mandate, the vouchers support private schools that are not “uniform” when compared with each other or the public schools.