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Supreme Court decision a "resounding rejection" of vouchers

National Education Association President Reg Weaver called the Florida Supreme Court's decision a resounding rejection of school vouchers and a crystal clear win for students, parents and public schools.

"The court said loud and clear that vouchers take resources, focus, and attention away from our neighborhood schools,"Weaver said. "Today's ruling echoes what NEA has said all along:  we must strengthen our public schools so that all children, not just a few, have access to quality education."

In a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional the so-called Opportunity Scholarship Program, the nation's first statewide school voucher program, noting that it violates the state constitution's requirement for a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."

"We support parents' right to send their children to religious schools, but oppose the use of public funds to do so,"said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, which brought the case. "Vouchers siphon money from already overburdened public schools, to private schools that charge for their services, select their students on the basis of academic or family or personal characteristics, and are accountable only to their boards and clients."

The ruling strikes a major blow to Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the NEA noted. The voucher program has been the centerpiece of Bush's education platform, much like President George W. Bush has touted No Child Left Behind.

The court noted that private schools are not uniform when compared with each other or the public school system. They are exempt from many standards imposed by law on public schools, such as mandatory background checks on applicants, mandatory busing, teacher certification standards, and mandatory statewide assessments.

The ruling is the latest in a series of recent setbacks for those attempting to privatize education. In a recent decision, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down that state's voucher program, ruling that it violated the state's constitutional guarantee that local schools have the right to control local schools.

In another case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Washington state's ban on using state scholarships to study for the ministry does not violate a student's rights to practice religion.

This lawsuit was sponsored by NEA, the Florida Education Association, and a coalition of other labor, education, civil rights, and public interest organizations. The NEA and Florida Education Association attorneys were lead counsel. The court ruling allows the voucher program to continue in effect until the end of the Florida school year.

--NEA media release