Arnold Kling  

School Voucher Ruling

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The Florida Supreme Court decided that school vouchers violate the state constitution.


The narrow question we address is whether [vouchers] violates a part of the Florida Constitution requiring the state to both provide for “the education of all children residing within its borders” and provide “by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

I am not a lawyer. However, it seems to me that this ruling says that for any child to attend private school in Florida is a violation of that state's Constitution. If I lived in Florida and paid for my daughter to attend private school, then according to the Florida Supreme Court Florida would be derelict in its duty to educate my daughter in a public school that is uniform, efficient, safe, etc.

UPDATE: I should point out that the ruling states:


Our decision does not deny parents recourse to either public or private school alternatives to a failing school. Only when the private school option depends upon public funding is choice limited.
This limit is necessitated by the constitutional mandate in article IX, section 1(a), which sets out the state’s responsibilities in a manner that does not allow the use of state monies to fund a private school education.

But the wording that they quote from the state constitution does not make the distinction between private and public money. It says that the state has an obligation to provide for the education of all students. It seems to me that private schools either provide such an education or they don't. If not, then the constitution seemingly forces every student to attend public school.

Of course, if the Florida constitution were interpreted as applying to all citizens, then there would be pressure to amend the constitution. Such pressure is less likely to come in this case, because the court punished the families of children from failing schools rather than picking a fight with all private school parents.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Ivan Kirigin writes:

Three cheers for a state relinquishing top-down control!

Perhaps it is something the particular voucher system in question, but in my understanding, public schools don’t close with vouchers. Schools only close if no students choose to spend their voucher there. In such a case, there are a total of zero children who are not being provided education.

The rest are being schooled at institutions (whether currently public or private) that they believe to be equal to or better than their previous institution.

I’m pretty sure that the current system violates the law, if, like most states, Florida has a failing public education system.

KipEsquire writes:

"it seems to me that this ruling says that for any child to attend private school in Florida is a violation of that state's Constitution"

No, it's just unconstitutional for the state to pay for it. Which is ludicrous enough.

"Shabby but equal" is inherently unequal.

Actually, it probably was the intention of the legislature in Florida to deny the right of parents to privately educate their children. This is about the 'mini Blaine Amendments' that were passed in the late 19th century with the support of the anti-Catholic bigots in the Know Nothing Party.

Including the KKK. Oregon actually did outlaw private schools, but the US Supreme Court found that law unconstitutional.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Look further. It helps to read the whole document. E.g. page 30: 'The provision states that income and interest from the State School Fun may be appropriate "only to the support and maintenance of free public schools"'

It seems the justices made the right call on legal ground, based on the state's constitution. The rule of law is the first step in a society that respects property rights. Without the rule of law, we have anarchy.

Now I'm not a lawyer either, nor a psychologist, but I claim that you cherry picked the results of this court decision on ideological grounds, not legal grounds.

Or maybe just didn't have time to read the whole decision.

daveg writes:

Actually, it probably was the intention of the legislature in Florida to deny the right of parents to privately educate their children. This is about the 'mini Blaine Amendments' that were passed in the late 19th century with the support of the anti-Catholic bigots in the Know Nothing Party.

Including the KKK. Oregon actually did outlaw private schools, but the US Supreme Court found that law unconstitutional.

I hate to say this, but I loath the idea of state funding for Muslim Schools, so I have to say there should be no funding for any religious institutions.

I note that there are orthodox Jewish schools in upstate New York that have received state funding for years. They routinely get slapped by the courts, but they proceed to basically ignore the ruling and noone is sent to jail.

This was the case as of a few years ago. They may have finally shut it down, but I wouldn't bet on it.

James writes:

I wonder what the opponents of vouchers think of Pell grants...

T.R. Elliott writes:

Mr Kling: Thanks for the update. But you are still pressing blame on the florida supreme court that more appropriately should be directed to the legislature. The supreme court did not write the constitution. I find it nonsensical to attribute to them the language that makes it sound as if all children must attend public schools. First, is there a case you are referencing regarding the inability for children to attent private school? Of course not. The justices, in the majority, bring up the fact that parents have the liberty to decide their children's education. But that does not have any bearing upon (a) the responsibilities of the state to put in place a public system of education nor (b) the right of parents to acquire funds contributed by all to the state education system.

The constitution can be changed. This is not a job for supreme court of florida. They came up with a decision that is defensible within the language of the constitution. You simply don't like that decision and therefore will look for every particular way to assign blame--and illogicality--to them.

Some may be pursuaded by your argument. I am not.

Also, the constitution is clear that state money not be used to fund a private school system. The dissenting opinion tries to argue otherwise, and the dissenting argument is not entirely unreasonable, but neither is the consenting majority opinion. All within reason, all within the language and wiggle room of the state's constitution.

James writes:

I believe that the language about uniformity was intended to prevent black students from receiving a different education from white students. The court's decision is probably consistent with the letter of the law, but I doubt that anyone ever intended the language of the FL Constitution to be construed in a way that forbids choice and diversity in state funded education.

Regarding the solution, I happen to think T. R. is right. The Constitution is changeable, either by the legislature or (as is commonly the case in FL) by referendum.

Peter writes:

There is more to this story than what the Florida Supreme court actually said. A lot of their ruling is really stretching it, saying in effect that saying the state should fund public schools means the state can fund only public schools.


They real goal in that opinion was to kill off vouchers without implicating any federal constitutional issues, making appeal beyond Florida impossible.

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