- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Florida school children won a major victory Wednesday when a Florida appeals court upheld the constitutionality of a voucher program that helps students who have been trapped in the state's worst schools. Teachers' unions and other interest groups were trying to discredit the program by arguing that using public funds to pay for private schools would violate the Florida Constitution. In overturning an earlier lower court decision that sided with the unions, Florida's First District Court of Appeals ruled that the Constitution "does not unalterably hitch the requirement to make adequate provision for education to a single, specified engine, that being the public school system."

It would be ridiculous to think the Constitution would make such a provision. What the Florida Constitution requires is that the state provide a "uniform … high quality system of free public schools." This Florida public schools were unable to do, leaving children with little opportunity to learn. To stop the number of failing schools in his state from increasing, Gov. Jeb Bush supports a program that forces public schools to reach stringent accountability measures. If they fail two out of four years, their students have the choice of going to another passing public or private school. This has initiated a rigorous campaign for improvement in academic student and teacher achievement from within Florida public schools with significant success. This year not a single public school failed.

While the just over 120 students from Pensacola, Fla. who left their failing schools last year for the first time will be allowed to continue their education in their school of choice, the schools they left are not only improving academically, but have gained additional financial resources. As part of Mr. Bush's education plan, public school districts received $1.5 billion for improvement in 1999 and 2000.

The voucher program backed by the Florida governor is considered a model for school choice cases being debated across the country, and elements of it are being used in his brother Texas Gov. George W. Bush's education platform. As the Florida governor was celebrating the court win last night, his brother was using the presidential debate spotlight to highlight his plans for public school accountability, mandatory achievement testing in every grade and school choice programs for public and private schools sponsored by the federal government.

The Florida ruling comes at a key time for voters. On Election Day, propositions on both the Michigan and California ballots will ask voters to decide whether they approve of vouchers for their children. In California, Proposal 1 would provide all grade school students with a $4,000 voucher to be used in their school of choice, and in Michigan it would remove the language in the state constitution which prohibits vouchers, thereby allowing the state to provide vouchers to students in districts where two-thirds failed to graduate.

Voters in other states shouldn't hesitate to tell the presidential nominees on Election Day whether they want to follow Florida's success as well. Let the Pensacola children lead the way.

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