Lawmakers May Look to Change Constitution to Protect Vouchers

By: Victoria Langley
By: Victoria Langley

Thousands of Florida parents are keeping their eyes on the State Supreme Court, waiting to see whether the school voucher program will be declared unconstitutional.

Three lower courts have ruled against the law, and lawmakers are already considering changing the constitution to protect the program.

Nearly 26,000 students use scholarships from one of Florida’s three voucher programs. Many attend faith based programs, but using state money for religious schools was ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court last week.

State Sen. Stephen Wise worries thousands of disabled and disadvantaged students will lose those scholarships if the State Supreme Court sides with the lower courts.

“Well, I think it’s choice and being able to get the kind of services you want for your child and think that’s what we’re really talking about.”

If the Florida Supreme Court strikes down the voucher law, legislators may try to do an end run and take the issue straight to the voters. There is plenty of precedent.

Lawmakers used a constitutional amendment this year to require parental notification of a teens pending abortion.

State Rep. Dan Gelber thinks Republicans may try to use this new focus on moral values to push through an amendment to keep the voucher program intact. He hopes it backfires.

“I think high-quality public schools is a value, and I think the opinion of the lower court and hopefully the Supreme Court will advance values by putting more money into our public schools.”

Gov. Jeb Bush says it’s too early to talk amendments.

“That's the first step is we hope the Supreme Court would overturn the decision, secondly it might allow for a legislative fix. Then again it could require a constitutional change.”

But the governor says he’s definitely appealing the voucher ruling to the State Supreme Court.

If Jeb Bush does appeal the voucher ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, the justices will have the option of choosing not to hear the case and letting the lower court ruling stand.

If the Supreme Court takes up the voucher case, it won’t be until next year at the earliest.


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