By Brian Johnsrud
Paid for with the nation's tax dollars, public schools promise a simple duty. To the best of their qualifications, they provide each and every student the ability to obtain an education that meets the nation's standards.
Constant tests and surveys are taken along with school inspection codes being performed to ensure this standard. But what if these duties are not met? If a child is flunking, should taxes be used to pay for a separate education for him or her?
A one-year-old Florida voucher program claimed that if a child isn't passing his courses in a public school, then the same funds that stabilize public education will be used to provide that child with a free education at a private school. The initial motive for this was for areas where the school's education was so poor, that only middle-class parents could afford to personally fund their child's education at a private school. So, this would grant lower-class families the right to give their child a better education if it can not be obtained otherwise.
Recently, Judge L. Ralph Smith Jr. ruled that this first-of-it's-kind system would have to be omitted because it violated Florida's Constitution. Their Constitution states that public money can not be spent on private education.
Currently, the state was offering up to $3,389 each for up to 53 children that were academically inadequate and requested the funding. But, he is now only allowing these 53 students to finish their current school year with provided funds, but then they must head on back to public schools or pay for private or religious schools themselves.
"Tax dollars may not be used to send the children of this state to private schools, "Judge Smith said. "The students can finish the year, but the state cannot implement the program in any other way.
Smith now has joined with other judges in Ohio, Vermont, and Maine to stop the constitutionality of this voucher. However, Florida only one of many states to have similar vouchers. Maine and Vermont have vouchers to support rural-area students. Others areas such as Milwaukee and Cleveland have more liberal vouchers that have city-wide access. These have also suffered similar controversy, however. In 1998, the Supreme Court stopped short before considering to challenge Milwaukee's situation, but last December the justices ruled that Maine may subsidize rural children in private schools, but in no way religious schools.
Dexter Douglass, a lead attorney in the case, says that these other situations have no similarity to the Florida issue.
"There is no federal question," said Douglass. "It is uniquely a Florida problem and it is uniquely a Florida Constitution." Matthew Berry, a defender of the voucher program, and a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice, says that it would be impossible for the other state's situ tions not to play a key role in the case.
"This issue the judge ruled on today we dealt with both in Milwaukee and Cleveland and won in both those state's Supreme Courts," said Berry. "So eventually we're going to win this issue."