Teachers’ union sues to block ballot measure that could spur more vouchersby John Kennedy | July 20th, 2011
The state’s largest teachers’ union filed a lawsuit Wednesday to strip from next year’s ballot a measure allowing state money to go to religious institutions, a proposal they warned would open the door to more private-school vouchers.
Joining the Florida Education Association in challenging the proposed Amendment 7 are a half-dozen religious clergy and the current chairman of the Florida School Boards Association.
“Those of us who work to make public schools a priority know this is designed to open the door to vouchers,” said Andy Ford, FEA president.
A lawyer for the association, Ron Meyer, also condemned state lawmakers for crafting a ballot measure that misleads voters. “Instead of trying to hide the ball and playing word games, they should tell people they will empower religious organizations to extract tax dollars,” Meyer said.
The proposed constitutional amendment would effectively lift a century-old provision, dubbed the “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits tax dollars from directly or indirectly going to religious organizations.
Millions of state dollars are budgeted each year for programs serving foster children, inmates, and low-income and elderly Floridians that are run by religious-affiliated organizations. Supporters of the amendment say they are merely looking to clarify state law, to avoid putting these services at risk.
Florida’s Blaine amendment first gained prominence during the 2006 challenge to the state’s private school voucher program. The First District Court of Appeal ruled that then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s first-in-the-nation statewide program violated the no-aid provision.
But by the time the case got to the Florida Supreme Court, justices instead ruled vouchers unconstitutional because they violated another constitutional standard –one requiring that the sttte provide a “uniform system of public schools.”
The Blaine amendment came back into prominence in 2007, when the Council for Secular Humanism, a New York nonprofit which advocates a “non-religious lifestance,” sued the state’s Department of Corrections over substance abuse housing programs provided by a pair of faith-based organizations.