Ron Meyer is the longtime attorney for the Florida Education Association who has succeeded in getting Florida’s original school voucher program and an independent charter school authorizing panel thrown out in the courts. So when he threatens to sue two other voucher programs if the state moves forward with an even larger plan to provide stipends to any public school student who switches to private school, his warning begs an obvious question. Why hasn’t he sued already? The other two programs have existed for a decade.
Welcome to the constitutional cloud through which most ambitious states are now flying as they try to square a 21st century education with what in most cases are largely 19th century constitutional scripts.
Meyer is a smart and experienced attorney who is earning his pay when he says, as he did Sunday to Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel, that: “If we go back to court now – and I think we would go back to court if there were this voucher-for-everybody concept – these other programs would be impacted.”
So let’s put aside the bravado and look through his constitutional lens. Like many states, Florida has a provision for a “uniform” system of public schools. A variation first appeared in 1868, as a call for a “uniform system of Common Schools” aimed at establishing the ambition that all schools would possess similar resources. But in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court threw out former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Opportunity Scholarship Program because “it diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools.”