Even more education trouble in Florida
To an education writer, Florida is the state that keeps on giving.
Recently I wrote about the Republican-led Legislature’s attempt to pass legislation that teachers said would have decimated their profession by ending teacher tenure, linking teacher pay to standardized test scores and eliminating experience and advanced degrees as considerations in a teacher’s evaluation. There was so much opposition that the Republican governor, Charlie Crist, vetoed the bill.
Now there is a proposal legislation that would, if passed, put on the November ballot a referendum to amend the state constitution so that it allows direct public funding of religious schools. This would trash a 130-year-old state amendment which separates church and state.
Here's the language in the constitution that would be removed:
“No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
And this would be the replacement:
"An individual may not be barred from participating in any public program because that individual has freely chosen to use his or her program benefits at a religious provider."
Supporters say that the original Blaine Amendment was anti-Catholic and that eliminating it will bring more religious freedom to Floridians. Critics say that’s nonsense.
If approved, public education -- which is already being starved by lawmakers -- would be deprived of even more funding and it would be more difficult for public schools to meet the state’s constitutional guarantee to residents of a free, high-quality education.
This effort didn’t materialize out of nowhere.
A campaign to make this change has been underway since an appeals court ruled in 2004 that a school voucher program that then Gov. Jeb Bush had initiated was unconstitutional because it allowed public money to go to religious schools. And two years ago the state Supreme Court took a similar measure off the ballot.
Even though Bush is no longer governor, he still has enormous influence; in fact, he was a driving force behind the legislation that Crist vetoed.
The legislation has been approved by committees in the Florida Senate and House, both of which would have to vote in favor by at least a 60 percent majority in order for it to be put on the ballot in November.
The Miami Herald quoted Joe Little, a constitutional law professor at the University of Florida, as saying:
“The position of the people of the United States since 1790 is, ‘We don’t want to have state religion, we don’t want government involved in religion. The Republicans of Florida can’t eliminate that without getting rid of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
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| April 23, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories: Teachers | Tags: Florida and education, Florida and teachers, Florida vouchers, church and state and Florida, referendum on Blaine Amendment and Florida, teachers tenure bill and Florida
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