Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
School & District Management

Governor’s Voucher Effort Loses Steam in Florida

By Linda Jacobson — May 09, 2006 4 min read

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is in a political dogfight with Democrats and members of his own party over proposals to help preserve Opportunity Scholarships and other voucher programs in the Sunshine State.

As of late last week, momentum was going against the two-term Republican, who will be term-limited out of office after this year.

Four Republicans joined with Democrats last month to defeat a plan backed by the governor to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would create a statewide voucher program. The 23-16 vote on April 28 fell one vote shy of the three-fifths majority needed to put such a vote to the public.

The plan was Gov. Bush’s effort to get around a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in January that found the Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional. (“Fla. Court: Vouchers Unconstitutional,” Jan. 11, 2006)

Voucher proponents worry that without a constitutional amendment, Florida’s two other voucher programs—one for students with disabilities and another financed by private donations in return for state tax breaks—could also be vulnerable to legal challenges.

Under the proposed amendment, state-financed tuition vouchers would be available for students who “have disabilities or are economically disadvantaged, or meet other legislatively specified criteria.”

Voucher supporters did not immediately give up hope, though, that they could score a legislative win. Republican senators exercised a rarely used parliamentary procedure to get the measure back before the Senate late last week.

And they still held out hope for another strategy discussed early in the legislative session: legislation that calls for moving recipients of Opportunity Scholarships to the statewide voucher program that is underwritten by private donations.

GOP Divisions

The voucher issue revealed deep divisions among key Republicans.

In comments before a Cabinet meeting last week, Gov. Bush blamed internal GOP politics for the failure of the Senate to approve the resolution on a constitutional amendment.

“This was not a vote about school choice, trust me. It was about people’s feelings being hurt. It was about personal pride, it was about a dysfunctional Republican caucus,” the governor said, according to an audio record. “They are here to serve, to advocate ideas and to advance an agenda, hopefully in concert with the House and the governor’s office.”

The political fallout was almost immediate, at least for one senator.

Senate Majority Leader J. Alex Villalobos, a moderate Republican from Miami, cast the deciding vote against the constitutional-amendment plan. He and three other Republicans lined up with most of the chamber’s Democrats in opposition.

Sen. Villalobos, whose wife is a public school teacher, also played a part in defeating another piece of the governor’s education package—a plan to loosen K-12 class-size requirements voters approved in a 2002 ballot initiative. Mr. Villalobos, who was poised to become Senate president in two years, was one of six Republicans voting against that proposal.

His willingness to break ranks with fellow Republicans cost him his leadership position. Shortly after the votes, Senate President Tom Lee removed Mr. Villalobos as majority leader and gave the post to Sen. Daniel Webster, a conservative Republican from Winter Garden who wrote the voucher resolution.

Tax-Credit Route?

In decision handed down Jan. 5, the state supreme court ruled 5-3 that the Opportunity Scholarships program, which pays tuition at secular and religious private schools for about 730 students from certain low-performing public schools, is unconstitutional because it violates the state constitution’s provision requiring a “uniform” system of public education. The program, championed by Gov. Bush, was enacted in 1999.

The court directed the state to stop the program when the current school year is over. That means that the students in the program will have to return to public schools or find money for tuition from elsewhere.

But a proposal under consideration late last week by the Senate would allow those students to transfer into a voucher program that provides tax credits to donors who contribute to organizations that provide the vouchers.

The constitutionality of that program, which serves about 15,000 students, has not been tested in the state courts.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge it in the courts,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association. The FEA, which has led the legal fight against vouchers, is an affiliate of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

Mr. Pudlow added that the same objections the supreme court has to the Opportunity Scholarships program would probably apply to the corporate-tax-credit scholarship fund.

“I think we’re going to be looking at it,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Governor’s Voucher Effort Loses Steam in Florida

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Parents Berating Teachers? Making Decisions Without the Data? Advice for Principals
A year marred by COVID-19 has created new challenges for principals. Here are some answers.
6 min read
Principal Advice SOC
Getty and Vanessa Solis/Education Week
School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management 1,000 Students, No Social Distancing, and a Fight to Keep the Virus Out
A principal describes the "nightmare" job of keeping more than 1,000 people safe in the fast-moving pandemic.
4 min read
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School, in West Jordan, Utah.
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, Utah, would have preferred a hybrid schedule and other social distancing measures.
Courtesy of Dixie Rae Garrison