Appeals Court Will Reconsider Florida Voucher Ruling

Published November 1, 2004

When the First District Court of Appeal struck down Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship program in August, the decision was made by just two judges on a three-judge panel of the court. Now, at the request of the State of Florida, all 15 judges on the full court have agreed to reconsider the panel’s ruling.

The scholarship program, a key component of Governor Jeb Bush’s (R) school improvement effort, provides tuition vouchers to students attending public schools designated as failing by the state. Students may use the vouchers at secular or religious private schools. Only about 730 children currently use the vouchers, but the number of participants has increased each year.

Voucher opponents–including the state teacher union, the NAACP, the Florida PTA, and the Florida League of Women Voters–challenged the law on the grounds it violated Florida’s constitutional bar on any state funds being used to aid religious institutions. This is Florida’s so-called “Blaine Amendment,” named after a national effort in the late 1800s by U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine to prevent Catholic schools from receiving the public funding that at the time supported the openly Protestant public schools.

In August, the Appeal Court panel ruled that regardless of how public funds reached the schools, the use of public funds by religious schools was a violation of Florida’s Blaine Amendment. Bush immediately protested that the ruling threatened to invalidate many other programs, from college scholarships to Medicaid funding. (See “Appeals Court Strikes Down Florida Vouchers,” School Reform News, October 2004.)

Bush’s concerns were echoed by Clark Neily, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Florida parents using Opportunity Scholarships.

“This case has tremendous implications not only for the hundreds of students for whom Opportunity Scholarships are the last hope for a good education, but also for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who benefit from a wide array of state aid programs in which people have always been allowed to select religious options,” said Neily. “We are gratified that the full appellate court has decided to reconsider this ruling.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

A School Reform News article on the August 16 ruling of the First District Court of Appeal is available online at

More information on Blaine Amendments is available through The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which challenges Blaine Amendments nationwide, at its Web sites and