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Florida voucher law struck down again

By The Associated Press


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Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that an Aug. 6 appeal filed by the state automatically blocked implementation of Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey's decision striking down Florida's school-voucher law. Meanwhile, on Aug. 9, Davey said the state could issue more school vouchers while it appeals his ruling — as long as enough money is set aside to repay failing schools if the law is ultimately found unconstitutional.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A judge today struck down Florida's statewide school voucher law, saying it violates the state constitution.

The 1999 Florida law allows students at public schools that earn a failing grade two years out of four to get a voucher to attend private schools, including religious schools. It has been struck down before but been revived by rulings in other courts.

In today's ruling, Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey said that Florida's Constitution is "clear and unambiguous" in preventing public money from going to churches or other "sectarian institutions."

"While this court recognizes and empathizes with the ... purpose of this legislation — to enhance the educational opportunity of children caught in the snare of substandard schools — such a purpose does not grant this court authority to abandon the clear mandate of the people as enunciated in the constitution," Davey wrote.

He ordered an immediate injunction barring any students from using vouchers to attend private school this year.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio voucher law, ruling that state money could be spent on religious schools if parents could choose which private school they wanted their children to attend.

The Florida lawsuit was filed a day after the voucher law was signed. Plaintiffs include the state's teachers union, the Florida PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters and several families and educators across the state.

A year later, Circuit Judge Ralph Smith Jr. ruled that the law violated the state constitution by allowing tax dollars to be spent on private schools. But in October 2000, the 1st District Court of Appeal overruled Smith, finding the law was constitutional.

The Florida Supreme Court refused in April 2001 to consider the appeals court decision, sending the lawsuit back to the trial court for action on the remaining counts.

The voucher opponents dropped their count based on the U.S. Constitution after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.

But a count based on a similar provision of the Florida Constitution remained — and voucher critics argued that the state provision was far more exacting and specific than its federal counterpart.

That was the issue before Davey, who held a hearing on the case on July 9. The decision likely will be appealed.


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