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Uniformly Bad

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Opportunity Scholarships

As the Alliance for School Choice press release states:

The Florida Supreme Court today struck down the state's Opportunity Scholarship program, the nation's first statewide school choice program. For six years, Opportunity Scholarships have enabled families to opt out of failing public schools and into better-performing public or private schools.

The Court ruled in an opinion drafted by Chief Justice Barbara Pariente that Opportunity Scholarships violate the Florida Constitution's "uniformity" clause, which guarantees all Florida students a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." The Court declined to rule on a separate claim by teachers' unions and other school choice opponents that Opportunity Scholarships violate the state Constitution's Blaine Amendment.

From the court's opinion: The Opportunity Scholarship Program "diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not "uniform" when compared with each other or the public systems. . . In sum, through the OSP the state is fostering plural, nonumiform systems of education in direct violation of the constitutional mandate for a uniform system of free public schools."

As Clint Bolick from the Alliance for School Choice explains:

"This decision creates an educational straitjacket. Given that parental choice is triggered only when kids are in a failing public school, this ruling turns the guarantee of high-quality schools on its head."

The ruling could jeopardize alternative schooling for thousands of children, such as children with disabilities using scholarships under the McKay program; and children attending public charter schools, which do not have uniform curricula or teacher credential requirements.

"This Court is trying to halt education reform and parental choice in their tracks," Bolick said. "That's not going to happen."

In other words, all schools must have credentials and a uniform curriculum. Even if they produce "F" schools and students who fail basic reading and math tests--the key is that they are uniformly bad. All students are subject to the "same" conditions--that's what counts.

It seems to me that this ruling also calls into question any non-uniform state programming like gifted education, magnet schools, or Language-immersion classes. Why should some kids receive arguably higher-quality state education?

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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