A bill creating Florida’s first-ever statewide free pre-kindergarten program is headed to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers passed the bill overwhelmingly Thursday at the Capitol.
Some groups are already threatening lawsuits because the program will give state tax dollars to religious schools.
Florida’s pre-k bill hasn’t even been signed into law yet, and already it could be headed for a show-down in court. The proposal allows state funding for church-based pre-ks.
Larry Spalding of the American Civil Liberties Union says the Florida Constitution clearly forbids the state from using tax dollars to help religious institutions.
“The Legislature, the majority party, believes very strongly in government-funded religion. The two principles hit head-on.”
Debate came to a head on the house floor, where Democrats said church-based programs will be able to shut out students who don’t share their religion.
But the reality is, Florida can’t make a statewide pre-k program happen without using its church-based programs. There just aren’t enough non-religious pre-ks out there to absorb as many as 100,000 students by next fall.
Jeb Bush seems willing to take the risk. He vetoed the first pre-k bill last spring, but he’s ready to make this one work.
“It’s a good, solid bill and it will be one that we can implement, which is important.”
The governor’s already taking his school voucher fight all the way to the state Supreme Court. He may find himself there with pre-k too, unless lawmakers convince voters to change the constitution.
Winter Garden Sen. Daniel Webster says he may try this spring to pass a bill that would let voters change the Constitution to allow state funding for religious schools.