School Vouchers Cross Church-State Divide, AU Tells Fla. Lawmakers
Americans United Legal Director Steven K. Green traveled to Tallahassee in February to warn Florida legislators that vouchers are unconstitutional and oppose the adoption of any bill providing tax aid to private ,religious schools.
Green testified before the House Select Committee on Transforming Florida Schools on behalf of Americans United's 3,500 Florida members and four state chapters. During his testimony, Green pointed out that vouchers have never been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court nor any lower federal court. He noted that only the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld vouchers.
"When you add in the two federal cases, the record is seven courts to one ruling that vouchers are unconstitutional," Green said. "This figure does not include the three U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down tuition reimbursements. By any standard, this is not a rousing endorsement of vouchers. The overwhelming opinion of courts at the state and federal levels is that vouchers are unconstitutional."
Vouchers are a hot topic in Florida these days. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has proposed a voucher program for public school districts deemed to be "failing." The bill, H.B. 751, refers to vouchers as "private school opportunity scholarships." It has the support of many Republican lawmakers, who now hold majorities in both chambers of the Florida legislature.
Some Democratic lawmakers have complained that GOP members of the legislature are determined to ram vouchers through without a proper heating. "We're not seeing a discussion. We're seeing a railroad on greased tracks," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat.
In other news about vouchers:
* New Mexico: The House Education Committee has voted to shelve a voucher bill proposed by Gov. Gary Johnson (R), most likely killing the plan for this year.
Johnson had proposed giving 100,000 students vouchers worth about $3,000 for one year then expanding the program to include all New Mexico students. The measure, H.B. 303, was introduced in the House by R.C. "Dub" Williams (R-Glencoe).
Johnson conceded that the plan is unlikely to pass this year, after the committee voted it down 9-6 on Feb. 27. Democrats later said they might be willing to support a pilot voucher plan that would allow businesses and other groups to receive state money to educate at-risk students.
Johnson's proposal is so radical that even Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe opposes it. Sheehan told the Albuquerque Journal that he still favors an experimental voucher plan but that Johnson's idea goes too far. "We are concerned that a full-blown voucher program could be harmful for our public schools," Sheehan said. …