Another private school voucher legal battle likely on the way

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - The inclusion of a private school voucher program in the 2019 education package is likely to result in lawsuits.

The inclusion of a private school voucher program in the 2019 education package is likely to result in lawsuits. (MGN)

The battle over vouchers has a 20-year history in Florida dating back to Governor Jeb Bush. It started in 1999 when Bush signed into law the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

It allowed students in failing schools to get a tax-funded voucher to attend private schools.

“I think we're in for a renaissance in public education,” said Bush at the bill signing.

In 2006, the program was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court, which found it violated the requirement public education be uniform and equal.

Ron Meyer represented the state’s largest teachers union in the case.

“They were under no standards. They didn't teach the same curriculum,” said Meyer.

An appellate court also ruled funding religious schools with taxpayer dollars unconstitutional.

“Religious schools are fine, but they shouldn't be paid for with state dollars,” said Meyer.

Bush continued fighting for vouchers and led a push to put the question before voters in 2006.

“Floridians will say yes, that this is a fundamental right, that this is a civil right, that this is as American as apple pie,” said Bush at a 2006 Save Our Schools rally.

While Bush failed to gather the support needed from the Legislature at the time, the legal battle for school choice is about to be revived.

The Florida Legislature has approved a new private school voucher program called The Family Empowerment Scholarship. It’s a new name, but the concerns from public school advocates are the same.

“This is a disturbing trend,” said Meyer.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship was a priority for Governor Ron DeSantis.

Many supporters of school choice hope the newly conservative-leaning State Supreme Court will have a different option on vouchers.

Meyer said this time there might also be a discrimination argument made.

“Private schools, religious schools are free to kind of pick and choose among the students that they want,” said Meyer.

A lawsuit won't likely be formally filed until after the law takes effect on July 1.