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Posted at 4:30 PM ET, 04/23/2010

Even more education trouble in Florida

By Valerie Strauss

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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By Valerie Strauss  | 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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The Republicans want to take money away from Floridas educational system, already underfunded. In Floridas Broward School District, writing paper is no longer supplied to the classrooms, under the premise of "going green" saving money.How do you teach without paper? How about homework? And they blame the teachers for poor scores! This is just another ploy by Jeb Busch to divert state money to private schools, which the Bush boys and cronies can profit from and control.

Posted by: roosboys | April 23, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I have always been torn about this idea. I don't think that it keeps church and state separate, but having gone to a parochial school myself, I know those schools are really in need of money also. In essence parents who send kids to private schools pay double.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 23, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Celestun- there is nothing to be torn over except whether to pay for a private school or whether to take part in your local public school. A free public education is available to anyone who wants to use it. If you choose private, then you are choosing to pay double which is your right. I pay taxes in order to support public education which is free from religion and I do not want my tax money going to ANY religious school or private school. Here in Florida Jeb Bush is doing everything in his power to destroy public education. I wish someone would bring another class action lawsuit against this voucher garbage which is clearly against our constitution.

Posted by: Live4literacy | April 23, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

The Florida legislature also was putting a bill through that wants the teachers to pray with the students. A couple of weeks ago we were stupid, but now we are to be in charge of praying. Maybe they will have a test for that, too.

If you visit Tallahassee, don't drink the water. There must be something in it.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 24, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Whatever your religious beliefs, there exists some religious denomination that insists you are evil and will go to hell because of them. Do you want your tax money used to teach children that?

By the way, is roosboys right that "in Floridas Broward School District, writing paper is no longer supplied to the classrooms"? When did schools start supplying the paper to the students (except in the first grade when the students use special paper with big lines? And if the school supply things like paper and pencils, what's with all the ads each fall encouraging people to donate school supplies for poor children?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 25, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Here is what our precious Republican legislators have planned for the students/teachers/administrators/districts of Florida because the SB6 veto.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | April 25, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

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