In the summer of 2011, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit challenging a proposed ballot initiative which would repeal the almost century-old Blaine Amendment. What at the time was called Amendment 7, its intent was to end the state’s prohibition of funding religious institutions. Naturally Jeb Bush came unglued and released the following statement through the Facebook page of one of his foundations:
“Amendment 7 is not about vouchers. It is about providing Floridians high-quality public services (social, healthcare, and education), irrespective of the provider’s religious affiliation. The amendment simply aligns the Florida Constitution with protections that already exist in the U.S. Constitution. Unions are more interested in protecting political monopolies than ensuring every Floridian has access to the high-quality services that best fit their needs. By making this about vouchers and educational choice, the teachers unions are again proving they care more about power than equipping Sunshine State students for success.”
At the time, Scathing Purple Musings opined here and here. The FEA won a victory in court as Leon County judge Terry Lewis found the name of the ballot initiative, “Religious Freedom” misleading as it made no mention of state funding. Hence it was repackaged and went to voters are Amendment 8. It was soundly rejected.
As this blog published at the time, if Jeb Bush says it’s not about vouchers, Floridians have learned that, well, it’s about vouchers. The episode is just one in many which showed how much Bush loathes Florida public school teachers who oppose his agenda. Moreover, like each voucher fight, Bush has demonstrated a willingness to twist the Florida constitution.
So lets bring ourselves to this week’s well-covered hearings on the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the pseudo voucher program Bush imposed on Florida repackaged as a “tax credit scholarship.” The Florida Supreme Court struck down Bush’s voucher scheme in 2006. The FEA has been joined by the Florida PTA and the Florida School Board Association in this suit, yet it is the teachers union which is singled out as the lone evil opponent of the children of poor families who benefit from the program. Bush’s allies have exploited voucher children and used them in TV advertisements which single out public school teachers and as props at Monday’s court hearing and yesterday’s Bush education summit.
The words of the attorney representing vouchers reveal just how close to the edge the current law is to being unconstitutional:
Attorney Raoul Cantero explained, “Absolutely there are differences. In 2006 the Supreme Court said you can’t use the public treasury to produce an alternative to the public schools. This is not using any funds from the public treasury.”
It’s astonishing for Cantero to even mention the 2006 strike down, but it reveals that voucherists know the are on extremely shaky constitutional ground. When considered against those of the FEA vice president, it illustrated just how difficult Judge George Reynolds’ decision will be.
FEA Vice President Joanne McCall asserted, “The Florida legislature is to provide a free, quality, uniform, public education system. Doesn’t matter how you slice it: When you’re diverting private dollars into a voucher system and you’re making a parallel system that’s not accountable.”
On paper, it seems that Reynolds has to weigh the 2006 decision along with the right of the legislature to write tax law. Hardly a slam duck for either side. Perhaps this explains the often deliberately misleading tactics that Bush and others have been using to demonize the people who oppose their ideas and agenda.
A strike-down of the current tax credit scholarship program would indeed imperil many children and families. Some sort of grandfathering would be appropriate as would an extension to other family members. Perhaps even a strengthening of the “failing school” option is in order. There isn’t a public school teacher in the state who oppose such measures despite what Jeb Bush and his mouthpieces would tell you.
But a strike-down would be on Bush as it is he who scripted the effort to side step the Florida constitution.